The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC)

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The South African Broadcasting Corporation headquarters in Johannesburg, South Africa. Photo courtesy Mike Powell

Like South Africa itself, the country’s public broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), has a rich and fascinating history.

It was established by the South African government in 1936 with radio services offered first in English and Afrikaans, and later in the African languages of isiZulu, isiXhosa, Sesotho and Setswana. In 1950 the SABC launched its first commercial radio service, Springbok Radio.

Photo courtesy Zaian

Experimental television broadcasts in the main cities of South Africa kicked off in 1975, with national broadcasts starting nationally on January 6 1976.  There are still many South Africans who experienced life pre-TV and who fondly recall a host of radio shows that were staple daily entertainment.

The history of the broadcaster is intertwined with South African politics. Radio broadcasting was established through an Act of Parliament, and SABC radio stations were generally considered government mouthpieces for many years. The ruling National Party used radio and television to further the apartheid regime and benefit the white minority.

At one time some SABC managers belonged to the Broederbond, an elite secret society dedicated to the advancement of Afrikaner interests. Christian religion was promoted with church programmes on Sundays and censorship was strictly enforced. Regional FM music stations of the 1960s were banned from playing music by bands such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

In 1996, the new political dispensation in South Africa meant that the SABC had to restructure in order to align itself with the notions of equality, redress and inclusion. Many of the programmes reminiscent of previous broadcasting were abandoned.

The SABC has since been accused of advancing the interests of the African National Congress, the current ruling political party, especially in news broadcasts.

The SABC headquarters are located on the slopes of Auckland Park, north-west of downtown Johannesburg. Guided tours of the broadcaster’s radio park and television production studios are run regularly by experienced facilitators.

In the radio park you can watch DJs and presenters in action and visit the media library where tens of thousands of CDs are stored. The tour includes a stop at the a technical museum, which covers the introduction and development of radio and television broadcasting in South Africa, and a simulated studio where wannabe presenters can get behind the microphone.

The tour also stops in at the SABC’s television production studios, where many popular shows are pre-recorded and where production sets are kept.

The news studio is a highlight of any tour. Here you will be exposed to all the behind-the-scenes efforts that go into news and weather broadcasts.

Tours last between 90 minutes and two hours. They are run at the following times:

Mondays to Fridays – 08h30, 10h00, 11h30 (except Wednesdays) and 13h30
Saturdays – tours of 15 people or more set off between 08h00 and 12h00

Individuals in groups of up to 10 people usually take the tour on a Wednesday morning at 11h15.

School and tertiary institution tours are welcome.

Booking is essential for all tours.

Admission

Adults: R35
Scholars and students: R25
Senior citizens and groups of people with disabilities: Free

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