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Promoting Khoisan Voices: Valley FM

Community radio station Valley FM broadcasts from the picturesque town of Worcester in the Western Cape in South Africa. In 1998, Valley FM applied for a radio broadcast license, but only in December 2003 did they obtain it. The station broadcasts to listeners of the Breede Valley, Witzenberg, and Langeberg municipal areas on a wide range of perspectives, views, and opinions on issues of local public concern, stimulating critical thinking and engaging listeners to improve their quality of life. Reaching over 180,000 listeners, most being descendants of Khoisan people, Valley FM broadcasts in three languages: Afrikaans, isiXhosa, and English.

The Khoisan—referring to both Khoi and San groups— include five main groups: the San, Griqua, Nama, Koranna, and the Cape Khoi. Colonialism and apartheid dispossessed the Khoisan of their land and destroyed their culture and language. Khoisan matters are seldom raised in mainstream media, and when they are, the mainstream media provides mostly sensationalist coverage. In response, Valley FM “initiated information and education programs focusing on Khoisan matters in response to listener requests,” says station manager Francois Marais, adding that the station “provides a platform for Khoisan leaders to engage with listeners, for activists to promote language and culture, and for healers to transfer knowledge about traditional medicine. We strive to keep our listeners informed about policy discussions and debate.
It is envisaged that funding for our activities would enhance the scope of our radio current programs,” he says. 

The Khoisan in South Africa continue to face serious violations of their human rights. The 1996 South African Constitution does not officially acknowledge Khoisan as Indigenous Peoples or their status as a First Nation. The new democratic dispensation did not bring many changes to the status of Khoisan people, who are still classified as “coloured,” just as during apartheid. The South African government has not ratified ILO Convention 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, and fails to comply with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

With a Cultural Survival Community Media grant in 2018, Valley FM produced 12 radio episodes to develop Khoisan leadership and use Khoisan voices to speak about identity, plant and medicinal knowledge systems, language, human rights, and international movements. “Our collaboration with individuals within the Khoi and San community realized programs that are informative, interesting, and varied,” says Catherine Wiese, program manager, citing an interview with Petrus Vaalbooi, leader of the San community, as an example. “We highlighted current challenges facing the San community, creating an awareness of the frustrations when communities are marginalized, excluded from participation in processes that should address their situation and improve their living conditions.”

As part of the station’s initiative encouraging listeners to know more about their Indigenous heritage, Valley FM made a program on Indigenous heritage sites such as Ratelgat, Khomani San, Footprints on Nahoon Beach, Pinnacle Point of Human Origin, and !Kwattu San heritage site. In addition, they recently conducted an interview with a representative from a traditional cultural nonprofit, Griqua Royal House, about the unveiling of a statue of Adam Kok, a leader of the Griqua people in South Africa, on Heritage Day. “Our Heritage Day radio program highlighted the current debate around the eradication of the term ‘coloured’ and the history of ‘camisa’ as preferred name, as well as the advocacy process to influence stakeholders and government to change the term ‘coloured,’” explains Wiese.

The focus of other recent programs includes Indigenous Knowledge Systems. “We interviewed Professor Jeremy Klaassen from the University of the Western Cape on the challenges to ensure that Indigenous communities benefit. Relating to policy, we interviewed Leslie Jansen, discussing the Indigenous Knowledge Bill enacted towards the end of 2018, its implications for Khoi and San communities, as well as mechanisms to protect and maintain Indigenous knowledge and related knowledge and the instruments to exercise these rights through customary laws, practices, and values,” says Wiese.

Photo: Marianne Vries (center back) with Khoisan guests at Valley FM.
Photo by Valley FM.

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