As the Voice of the Cape Radio, 91.3fm, this month celebrates 21 years on air, the efforts of its predecessors and the greater Cape Town community has not been forgotten. The station, which began broadcasting on a permanent license on September 1, 1995, was the first Muslim community broadcaster in South Africa. This followed the station’s initial broadcast in Ramadan of January, 1995, which to date is considered a historic moment for Muslims of the Cape.
The station today boasts more than eighty staff members included in the; vibrant newsroom, sales department, production team, on air team, and board and management team.
One of the original founding members of VOC, Imam Shakier Achmat gives insight into VOC’s journey to success.
Achmat explains that following the fall of Apartheid, the radio station initially applied for a temporary licence in 1994.
The usage of the license was, however, restricted to specific periods, such as the month Ramadan.
Aside from Ahmed, the key role players in establishing the station was imam Noor Davids, imam Gasan Solomon (al-marhoom), Anwah Ismail, and Moegsien Khan [the current station manager].
“Unfortunately, imam Davids ventured into business and imam Solomon went to Parliament and because of certain regulations could not be part of the radio. So, it was left to Ismail, Khan and I.”
The founders subsequently approached the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC), which at the time was considered the representative of the larger Muslim community of the Cape.
Achmat notes that both the ex-president of the MJC, shaykh Nazeem Mohamed (al-marhoom), and shaykh Moosa Goder supported the initiative.
The radio station was then provided with a platform at the MJC to begin their work in preparation for the first broadcast that took place in January, 1995.
“We only got a few five days in Ramadan of a temporary licence, the first five and the last three days,” Ahmed noted.
Following the successful initial broadcasts, the Muslim Broadcast Corporation and a trust was established, which was drawn up by Judge Essa Moosa, then a practicing attorney.
Uniquely, the station applied for 11 magisterial districts, today referred to as a frequency, where radio stations generally applied for half a district.
“We paid R5 500 for the licence and an extra R5 500 to apply for a TV licence. So, we should have been on television – but unfortunately [that initiative] was lost.”
In its teething phase, Achmat notes that the founders employed the Research Council of South Africa to conduct an independent survey in a bid to understand what residents want from a radio station and to establish the support of the community.
Some of the first presenters to take to VOC’s airwaves were Shahieda Carlie, Zain Johnson, and later Mehboob Bawa.
‘The community welcomed the initiative’
Achmat says that on the final night of Ramadan before the radio was to close its broadcast, more than 100 000 residents made their way to the Waterfront calling for the radio to continue broadcasting.
“It was unique for people to come out at that time of the night and stay most of the night. I don’t think that there was any radio station at the time that could muster the support that the VOC had.”
The VOC then established a community forum that brought together the many masaajid within the Cape.
The forum provided the station with direct access to the community via each regional trustee and a community forum representative.
VOC’s birthing challenges
Achmat explains that while the Station was confronted with funding constraints in its initials years, the financial support of the community and the MJC was vital to its expansion.
“One person [that also contributed] was Zain Saban, who painted his vehicle with the VOC logo and gave it to us to use. There were others like boeta Yusuf Allie, Imam Fuad Samaai, and Imam Allie,” Ahmed stated.
“Individuals such as Safiyah Samuels and Rizia Ebrahim, who managed VOC’s Riebeeck Street Offices, contributed greatly to the success of the station.”
In a bid to overcome the financial struggles, Achmat said that the founders decided upon a venture that would soon become an integral part of Cape Town culture – the Voice of the Cape Festival.
“I could almost say out of desperation we started the festival, which many believed would not be a success. But, Dr. Barday, shaykh Nazeem, shaykh Sa’dullah Khan and Rashaad Jedaar instructed me to come back with a plan and that led to the festival being a huge success.”
As a Muslim radio broadcaster, Achmat says that the stations greatest success was to bring Islam into the homes of residents.
In addition, he notes that the station established and maintained links within the community, in which individuals were informed of employment opportunities, janaza notifications, and local events.
Given the response by the community to the establishment of the station, numerous sponsors came out in support of the venture, including; Flywell Travel, Murway Motors, and Excellent Meat Market.
“But at the end, there are so many people we can thank… [And] we must be thankful to the Almighty that we were able to bring this platform into reality,” Achmat continued.