Mandela Tributes at a Community TV Station

15 December 2013. Nelson Mandela is dead and now also buried.

I work at Cape Town TV, a community TV station in Cape Town and that Friday morning a decision had been made to postpone our five day fundraising Telethon to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela. From Friday 6 December to Monday 9 December, we broadcast live tributes in one to two hour slots. This was a major accomplishment for an under resourced, under funded television station, but with the support of our community members and many headless chicken moments we pulled it off at short notice.

The idea was to provide a platform for our community members to pay tribute to President Mandela. You could come in to recite a poem, perform a piece of music, or simply say a few words.  As a community TV station I believe this platform we provided was the essence of what it means to be a community TV station.

All sorts of people came through, the famous (and, to some, the infamous), religious leaders, chiefs and ordinary members of the public. The better known included Mary Burton, Marius Fransman, and Dan Plato. On the Friday we scrambled to get guests into the studio, but people wanted to come and so, they came. On the Saturday we seemed to have too many people coming through and we were concerned about being able to give all the people airtime. We had to cut short the amount of time allocated each person or group. At one stage, when I returned from the studio where the tributes were being done to the main office where my desk is, I was stunned by the amount of people crowding the space. For a brief moment my flight instinct kicked in as my first thought was How will we accommodate all these people? I quickly regained composure and then felt overwhelmed that our community had responded so positively to our platform for tributes. It affirmed that we were doing something that spoke directly to a need of our community members.

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On Saturday we went live from 19h00 – 21h00. The first people were there by three o’ clock – a mother and her son, who came to sing and play the accordion. They sat in our lounge for four hours waiting for their chance to perform their tribute.

By the Sunday we were old hands at the tributes. Although we did not have all the tributes confirmed at the start of the day, by the end of the broadcast all our minutes had been substantially filled and there was no extra time for the Reverend who had paid tribute and then wanted to close the broadcast with a prayer.

Before any of my colleagues read this and think I forgot about Monday’s broadcast, or that I do not count it as one of the tribute broadcasts, this is not the case. Monday’s live broadcast aired from 16h00 – 17h00 which is the slot of our flagship youth programme, EkSê (I Say). While the preceding live tributes were staffed by mostly full time staff, EkSê was crewed by our volunteers, who are mainly young people, who come to the station to gain TV experience. They did a sterling job and I take my hat off to the presenter, Millz, who was the only presenter on the programme and maintained a cool, calm presence throughout his first ever live TV show!

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I wanted to write about this as an instance of community TV doing what community TV is meant to do, which is to provide access to broadcast facilities for community members and the platform for community members to express themselves. It is a simple goal that I think we were able to realise in the way that community members were able to use the station to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela.

The thoughts expressed in this blog are entirely my own and in no way reflect the official position of Cape Town TV.

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