Creativity or control? : a study of selected Xhosa radio plays in the Apartheid years.
Gqibitole, Khaya Michael.
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Although radio drama is a very popular form of the media, it is largely neglected in scholarship. As a result of this, it has been pushed into the periphery of research, thereby diminishing its value in society at large. The present study attempts to unearth the importance and value of the genre and its role in society, particularly during the apartheid era in South Africa. In this regard, the splendid work done by, among others, K. Tomaselli, R. Teer-Tomaselli, R. Fardon and G. Furniss, L. Gunner, D.A. Spitulnik, D. Sibiya, M. Maphumulo, N.E. Makhosana, N. Satyo and M. Jadezweni is acknowledged and commendable. In my view, its ‘omission’ in scholarship does not mean that the genre played a minimal role in educating and enlightening society. In the study I propose that radio drama was more constrained compared to other media genres, even though it was the most accessible. However, its accessibility had both advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, it informed and entertained audiences, while on the other it could be and was used for propaganda purposes. It is generally this paradox that the study will probe. My premise is that radio was primarily used by the apartheid government to disseminate propaganda. In order to ensure that the audiences were not exposed to what was happening ‘out there’, programmes were created to present a falsehood about the country, thereby depriving audiences of reliable information. It is not surprising, then, that there was some confrontation between the managers and playwrights at the Xhosa language radio station. While the managers tried to influence programmes to propagate government policy, playwrights used the same communicative space to educate as well as to entertain the audience. The audience actively extracted information they needed from the plays. In other words, they played an active role in meaning-making. Throughout the study I will claim that there was a rapport between playwrights and the audience. Among other things, that relationship illustrated the role that the audience played in constituting the plays. Themes such as ‘tradition’ and ‘romance’ were used to connect the plays with the audiences’ everyday lives. These themes were acceptable at the stations even though they could be manipulated to serve different purposes. Some of the plays that I will examine in the study are Buzani Kubawo (1981), Nakuba Intliziyo Ithatha Ibeka: Undoqo Sisibindi (1987), USomagqabi (1986), UHlohlesakhe (1979), UThuthula (1970) and Apho Sikhala Khona Isakhwatsha (1981). These plays will be examined to, among other things, establish the nature of the relationship between the managers and playwrights. The study will contend that there was a contestation between managers and playwrights. I will also claim that some of the plays were based on real political and social issues that plagued the period in question. In this regard plays such as Apho Sikhala Khona Isakhwatsha will be used to demonstrate that some playwrights dealt with political issues. I will also explore how women were represented in the plays. In this regard, I will argue that women were depicted as inferior to men. To illustrate this I will discuss plays such as USomagqabi, Lunjalo ke Uthando and others. I will also deal with the critical issue of the ‘voice’. As a blind medium, radio relies on the voice and as such playwrights had to work hard to make their plays not only relevant but also believable to the audiences. The connection between the voice on radio and the ancestral voice will be examined. Lastly, the study will suggest that radio plays are still relevant in the present dispensation even though they play a different role compared to the apartheid era.