Today, 40 years ago, South Africa got TV


The 5th January 1976 was an historic day for South Africa as it marked the launch of television broadcasting by the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).

The SABC originally began test transmissions in Johannesburg in May of 1975. This was followed by further testing during July of the same year in Cape Town and Durban.

However, regular countrywide television service delivery only officially began on the 5th January 1976 making South Africa one of the last few remaining countries worldwide to get television. The fourth last, as it happens.

South Africa’s late adoption of television was due to the apartheid government which opposed the introduction of television for decades.

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H. F Verwoerd compared television to poison gas and atomic bombs. Dr Albert Hertzog (Minister for Posts and Telegraphs from 1958 to 1968) was quoted stating that television would come to South Africa “over [his] dead body” (he wasn’t wrong – ed.).

Hertzog denounced television as “only a miniature bioscope which is being carried into the house and over which parents have no control. It’s the devil’s own box for disseminating communism and immorality.” He also said that “South Africa would have to import films showing race mixing; and advertising would make [non-white] Africans dissatisfied with their lot.”

Television broadcasting in South Africa was initially, funded entirely through a licence fee, as in the UK, but advertising began in 1978. The service originally broadcast only one channel which alternated between English and Afrikaans content.

The majority of acquired programming on South African television in subsequent years was sourced from the United States, although due to their opposition to the apartheid regime, some production companies stopped selling programmes to the country.

Broadcasts also started at around 17h30 in the evening. To all parents out there, can you imagine if your kids had to contend with that? It’s madness!

Of course, times have changed since then. The SABC has come a long way, baby and there’s no madness associated with the broadcaster anymore.

  • Written by Sahil Lala

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