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SA is switching off analogue TV signals, while Zim’s digitisation program is in the doldrums

ZBC Van, CEO, TV Zimbabwe, Digitisation, Digital TV 12 new TV stations, ZESA

South Africa’s Ministry of Communications and Digital Technologies in partnership with broadcasting in South Africa, has announced the beginning of the phased switch from analogue TV broadcast technology to digital signals. The completion of the digitisation process will begin this month and is expected to end in March 2022.

The Zimbabwean government’s multitude of lies

When South Africa began its TV digitisation program Zimbabwe was there with them on the start line. The first time we wrote about digitisation was back in 2014 but the process was supposed to be already in full steam having begun several years earlier. The deadline for switching to digital TV was 2015.

Despite us predictably failing to meet the June 2015 deadline, my optimistic doe-eyed colleague (God bless his soul), optimistically wrote about the bountiful opportunities that digitisation would bring. He opined that even though we had missed the deadline, digitisation was just around the corner. The government was promising this-they wouldn’t be lying now, would they?

They were lying and they went on to do so many many times after that. Those who are familiar with how our beloved government works are not surprised. The random progress reports that were publicised by state media had to be coaxed out of the fellas in charge. It’s hard to not come to the conclusion that some of the progress reports were just made up on the spot. One year we were told we were making good progress. Digitisation was at 34% complete. The following year that went down to 25%. It’s almost certain somebody was just pulling numbers out of a hat. No plausible explanation was offered for this change in fortune.

During one year we were told ZBC was on the verge of digitisation. The much vaulted Second Republic was going to transform ZTV. They would introduce four channels shortly viz:

  • ZBC TV (General)
  • Zim 24 (News)
  • ZBC Documentaries
  • Sports263
  • Zimbabwe Parliament

Yeah right? Besides a defunct app on the Google Play store, which does absolutely nothing besides adding a ZBC icon on your screen, that never went anywhere.

The last we heard

Thankfully these days we are being spared the lies and excuses. The last we heard of digitisation was during last year’s Mid-Term budget review when the following lies were dolled out:

  • Two out of six digital television studios at Pockets Hill in Harare.
  • The digitalisation of eighteen transmitter sites.
  • Construction of thirteen out of twenty-five new television transmitter
  • site towers.
  • The renewal of five FM radio transmitter sites. The radio transmitter installations have brought about significant improvement in radio coverage to the communities in and around those areas.
  • The installation of a Regulatory Content Monitoring System at the BAZ offices in Harare, together with the installation of seven remote stations in areas with local commercial radio stations.
  • Provision of 48 Electronic News Gathering camera sets to the public broadcaster ZBC.
  • Five new tower foundation works as own works at Chikombedzi, Gutu, Maphisa, Murewa and Wedza to bring the number of completed new tower foundations to eighteen out of twenty-five.
  • Four phases of content production together with three phases of
  • Content training.

This time around, we called them out for their lies and fortunately nobody bothered to listen to them. In fact, besides our article on the issue, the revelations were greeted with indifference and silence by the public. You can only lie so many times.

Digitisation requires passion, skill, competence, tears and pain

National projects like digitisation require the sort of fortitude, selflessness and probity that our government just seems to lack. These are the people whose only bipartisan effort in parliament is to demand cars for themselves. Only about US$100 million and tenacity is required and yet you will hear them whine about foreign currency shortages and sanctions.

These are the same people who spent US$1 billion on themselves at the height of the 2008 crisis and saddled us with the debt. This country spends almost that much on DStv subscriptions each year. The bulk of people doing this are running away from the partisan and atrocious programming that ZBC is currently providing. With digitisation and the good content that it will bring surely the forex savings that the move would bring would make it worthwhile for the government to get a loan. Where is our benevolent Afreximbank when you need them?

South Africa’s digitisation program was not without controversy but unlike us, they confronted those hurdles and surmounted them. Issues were openly and fiercely debated in parliament. They persevered and now it has paid off. I sincerely wish we could do the same but our government…

This is not their style. These are the very same authorities that fiercely fought Kwese in a bid to stop it from operating. Innovation and improving the media infrastructure just ain’t their thing. Never mind what they will tell you.


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