Imagine yourself stuck in a slow afternoon traffic and you are tuning from one SABC radio station to the next. All you hear is the same old kwaito song being played in all the stations you tune into. This is what the 90 percent local content SABC policy might do to you.
Imposed a few months ago, the policy stipulates that the national broadcaster must ensure 90 percent of the music it plays is local while the foreign content is limited to 10 percent.
The policy is laced with confusion or lack of clarity. It is not clear whether the policy means 90 percent of the programme or 90 percent of the songs played per programme should be local. What does local content mean? Is it music that must be local or the artist? Would a song sung by a Zimbabwean artist based in South Africa be considered local? Perhaps the clarity would come as the policy unfolds.
The view that has been taken by SABC stations suggests that out of ten songs played in any programme nine must be local. How this quota was arrived at remains a mystery.
According to the SABC, the policy will boost the local artists so that they earn a living from their work unlike what was happening before where international artists were prioritised over the local musicians.
Nothing has been said about the quality of the local content. And this does not imply that local music is of inferior quality, but the truth is that it is not the best in the world either. While SA artists are singing praises to those who propagate this policy, such as the former SABC Chief Operating Officer, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, listeners are already being bombarded with one and the same songs played in different radio stations over and over again.
Whether this policy will produce the intended results is still unclear. What is clear though, is that the policy will achieve some short-term benefits. The artists will get more air play and in the process they will earn more royalties for their music. Even the old songs will be recycled in order to meet the quota as the country does not have enough stock to meet the new demand of the local music quota?
In the long run, though the picture does not look good. The possibility is that even the beneficiaries of this arrangement might pay a heavy price.
“You do not become a champion in any area or sport by preventing your opponents from challenging you as SABC is doing,” says one of the local music legends.
To improve and compete, the stage must be open to all those who want to take part, local or international. Besides SA, as one of the countries in Africa and the world, has a responsibility to contribute to the development of the rest of the African continent. In return, this country also benefits from other nations of the world where its music is also played. Closing local borders to the artists of the world is likely to cause more harm than good.
Policies that encourage narrow nationalism are not adding value to the young democracy. This country cannot afford to be an enclave that is part of the world when it suits us and then turn around to be a standalone unit when we are driven by selfishness.
Elimination of competition will not make SA artists more competitive. But it will create a false sense of belief that they are the best. In reality, they will only be competitive among themselves.
One wonders if the local artists who support this policy would, one day, like to hear their music being played in other countries.
This policy comes at the time when SA is encouraging social cohesion and the integration of foreign nationals into the SA society which would benefit both SA and foreign nationals in the country. But this off tune policy flies in the face of integration attempts.