It was a morning of good food, laughter and reminiscing as VOC honoured its founding members, many of whom sacrificed immensely for the development of the station. To mark 21 years of broadcasting, VOC paid tribute to the ‘old guard’ – who are regarded as the pioneers of the station. It was a small thank you gesture to a group of passionate community members who took a leap of faith to bring to life South Africa’s first Muslim community radio station in Ramadan 1995.
These like-minded individuals entered uncharted territory when the new democratic government democratised the radio broadcasting industry and began issuing licences for community radio stations. Stories were told of how staff members and volunteers sacrificed time with their families, their personal income and social lives to ensure the station’s livelihood. On many occassions, the station got a lifeline through the personal donations of masajid and community members.
At the event at Alhambra restaurant on Thursday morning, VOC’s current staff got to meet these role-players, most of them who left the station years ago but continue to be silent listeners.
“Today is a tribute to all those who are here, those who have moved on to do other things, and those who have left this life,” said VOC presenter Shafiq Morton, the former news editor.
“VOC in 21 years has become an institution, something the community needs to be proud of. It’s been a hard, difficult road but we have arrived,” said Morton.
VOC first went on air in Ramadan (January) 1995 for five days. The first Muslim community radio station in the country was so well received that between 80 000 and 100 000 Muslims were mobilised at the V&A Waterfront on the final night of broadcast to sign petitions calling for a permanent broadcasting license.
“How a community broadcaster has managed to achieve the status it has today is beyond belief. People abroad are amazed at what the station has achieved. This was only because of the sacrifices of many people,” added Morton.
As one of the founding members of the station, there was special praise for the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) and ulema such as Shaykh Nazeem Mohammed and Imam Gasan Solomon who had the foresight for a medium that would be used for da’wah and education.
MJC deputy president Shaykh Riad Fataar made the opening dua, followed by Shaykh Ebrahim Gabriels who delivered the keynote address.
“It’s indeed a great honour to be celebrating 21 years. This is a real family and there is real love in this family. And because this family was started for the pleasure of Allah (swt), that’s why it is successful,” he expressed.
Gabriels recalled that he had been part of the committee to decide the name for the radio station. After a fair amount of input, it was decided that a non-religious name would be chosen to appeal to people from all faiths.
“Over the years, we have had so many non-Muslims listening to VOC. So many people, because of listening to the radio, have embraced Islam. We therefore pay tribute and special thanks and recognition to all of you for your contribution.”
Stalwart presenter Shahiedah Carlie fondly reminisced about VOC’s first umrah and the success of her show, which has positively impacted on the lives of many people.
“I’d like to think that my programme holds sore hearts and makes it better. I’m so grateful that Allah has placed me where I am, alhamdullilah,” she said.
For much loved presenter Boeta Yusuf Fisher, a darling amongst the elderly listeners, the station was successful because of the good intentions of a select few.
“It’s an absolute pleasure to be part of the station for two decades. At the beginning, I remember Shaykh Nazeem once told me ‘jy bly by die wireless’. And I’m still here,” he joked.
“Many people see the glamour of the station, but not the hardships. It’s been a difficult journey and I for one received a lot of criticism, but I stayed true to my roots and who I am.”
Former presenter Mehboob Bawa, who has carved a successful career in commercial radio, said the gathering an “emotional” reminder of challenges faced at the station.
“I remember before the Ramadan broadcast in 1995 I heard about the radio station starting. I remember going to the first office wanting to find out more. When I walked in, I was greeted by Moegsin Khan (current station manager), who simply asked me when I can start. I had no radio experience what so ever…”
He continued: “The early days were a test of metal for everyone. We had fights and arguments and I have personally grown over the years.”
“It’s not just about being in broadcasting. Ultimately, we are human beings so we should strive to be the best we can be as Islam teaches us. We should look beyond creed, colour and religion, because in the end we all want to make a difference in the lives of others.” VOC