[intro]A trailblazing community radio station in Upington is playing a positive role in the community, providing a voice for citizens, enhancing local democracy and holding elected officials accountable.[/intro]

Radio Riverside in the Northern Cape town of Upington is punching way above its weight.

The winner of the best community radio in South Africa in 2013, the radio station plays a dynamic role in connecting citizens with government and holding those in power accountable.

Broadcasting in four languages – Xhosa, English, Afrikaans and Tswana – and reaching a weekly audience of 60 000 listeners, Radio Riverside takes seriously its mandate to provide quality information to citizens, to inspire and empower the community and contribute to the strengthening of local democracy. Upington has a population of just over 90 000 people.

The station offers a bouquet of entertainment, talk shows, news and educational programmes.

News Editor Patricia May told The Journalist that News Hour, a current affairs programme, is broadcast for one hour in the morning, four times each week. Lion’s Den, a two hour programme from 7pm to 9pm each Monday, deals extensively with community issues. There is an open line during the latter programme.

“Through these platforms, government and private sector representatives are able to speak about issues pertinent to the community,” she said.

She added that where Batho Pele principles are not properly applied, this is discussed on air and solutions found. She said the programme leads to community complaints being addressed and that at times it simply helps to facilitate proper communication between authorities and citizens.

Newsreader Jayson Freeman said the station tried to keep the community informed of developments and changes on a daily basis.

“We interview potential investors and municipal officials so that they can share ideas and proposals with the listeners. The station makes people aware of projects such as the Northern Cape’s green project which includes solar energy,” he said.

“We have solar parks where renewable energy is being generated,” he added. “Upington International Airport largely relies on solar energy for its operation.”

“We interview people who come from Upington but who are perhaps working as engineers or in other capacities in the Cities. They share their experiences with the community, in order to inspire others,” he said.

The radio looks at issues of service delivery and community development and put these under the spotlight to ensure progress.

Margaret Linstrom, a Communication Science lecturer at the University of the Free State has conducted journalism training for the Media Development and Diversity Agency in the Free State and Northern Cape. She and a team did a stint at Radio Riverside.

She describes the station as a “well-run, professional operation.”

“The staff, from management right through to the presenters and beginner journalists, were motivated and committed to make their radio station the best in the land. Every person we encountered at Radio Riverside stressed the importance of community involvement, of being a voice for the voiceless, of being an agent for positive change,” she told The Journalist.

She said you also got a strong sense “of the community considering the radio station as their station.”

“There was a sense of ownership from both the staff and the community – it was definitely a feeling of “our station”. The success of the radio station is reflected in the town of Upington, which is probably the neatest little town I’ve come across in many years,” she added.

She said the radio station was the first port of call for people who needed anything addressed. “There is a distinct feeling at the radio station that democracy works better when community media partners with local governance structures to strengthen democracy,” she said.

Ms Linstrom said that this did not imply that station shied away from being the watchdogs of their community.

“This role is one the newsroom plays particularly well. Radio Riverside is a prime example of what a vibrant community media sector does best – strengthening democracy by informing citizens of their rights and responsibilities, and empowering them to make informed decisions about matters big and small, “she concluded.

Radio Riverside has a full and part-time staff of 30. It can be located on 98.2 FM and can be accessed on line.

Radio Riverside Background

Radio Riverside kicked off at 06h00 on the morning of 11 October 1999. It was the start of a success story that continues to write a new chapter every year.

A public meeting had been called some months earlier to float the idea and attracted a good number of enthusiasts eager to volunteer their services in putting out a daily diet of programmes to Homes in the area, Hospital, Government departments, Community Centres and to people’s cars.

During the transition period of 1997 and 1998, a group of community leaders and other individuals rallied around. They come together to pursue the purpose of setting up a local community radio station through the leadership of the late Mr Saal who was an inspiration to many activists in the Upington community. Other people involved at the time include Moses Mamba, Charles Mchizwa , Nicolette Gunda, Desiree Malo , and others. A lot of mobilisation went into this preparation phase with late night meetings.

Funds were received from the Open Society Foundation, Northern Cape Department of Arts and Culture, Swedish International Development Co-operation Agency (SIDA) and The South African Government’s Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP). Preparation for the hearing to acquire the broadcasting licence was conducted by Nkopane Maphiri who was then with the National Community Radio Forum (NCRF).

The name “Riverside” was arrived at after the public was invited to submit name proposals for the radio station. Teemaneng Community Radio in Kimberley hosted the first training for the station.

Hearings were held in Kimberley in March 1999 and Radio Riverside panel included, Dicky Mathys, the late Fan Beukes , Charlotte van der Westerhuysen , Andrew Fredericks , Henry Esau and Moses Mamba. There was another group at the hearings, representing primarily the white community of Upington. We were contesting for the same licence.

The first person to go on-air for the first time that day at 06h00 in the morning was Douglas Mbambo and there were lots of complaints from the public about the way he spoke. SENTECH informed us about the interference with the OFM broadcast after some neighbours had complained to SENTECH.

This was the first chapter of the Upington Community Radio Forum (Radio Riverside) book. It has been more than a decade now and Radio Riverside continues writing the book chapter by chapter every year.

From the Radio Riverside website.