Motsweding FM, whose name means of/to the fountain, is a contemporary voice of Setswana speaking South Africans and many Batswana of Botswana. On June 1st 2012 the station celebrated its 50th birthday with a series of commemorations which were kicked off with a special live breakfast show where the entire station crew cracked open a bottle of champagne. The celebrations marked the beginning of all-year celebrations of broadcasting ka puo e ntle ya Setswana. The station started broadcasting on June 2nd 1962. Then it was known as Radio Bantu. Its trailblazers were individuals such as Joseph Kotsane, Rufus Mpolokeng and Bella Komane. At one time it was also known as Radio Setswana; at that time it was part of Bophuthatswana Broadcasting Corporation.
Currently, the station has grown. Its listenership has increased. The station has a cult following in Botswana and much of the Setswana speaking South Africa. The station has a fairly simple vision: “to be the contemporary voice of Setswana speaking and or understanding South Africans, acknowledging, proud and respectful of its cultural heritage”. The station also intends to: “be most progressive urban adult contemporary radio station of choice that deliver cutting edge/innovative programming & marketing concepts to clients.” It is clear that for Motsweding FM to be current and innovative are critical. They have been careful to ensure that being culturally relevant is not seen as being in apposition with being modern. Motsweding FM has therefore moved to try and make Setswana fashionable with much success and many teething challenges. It is obvious that many at Motsweding FM are neither linguists nor cultural specialists. To address this challenge, the station works closely with experts in various fields. Many of them are drawn from the University of the North West and University of South Africa. These experts advice on matters such as programming and cultural representation; they provide expert commentary on a number of issues such as politics, science and linguistics; they write the plays that are performed on radio and deal with complex matters of identity, faith and self-actualization.
In the past few years some of us have observed Motsweding FM develop into a compelling radio station of note. The station does have some weaknesses and peccadilloes yes; but which one doesn’t? In attempt to resuscitate pride in the Setswana language through using it in real professional domains; the station is bound to have multiple challenges, especially that they are trailblazers; hewing out a path where none existed before. The question is therefore this: what can we in Botswana learn from the Motsweding FM experience? First, we can unashamedly develop a clear policy of broadcasting with Setswana culture and languages right in the middle. This however must be done carefully not to develop what some have termed Tswanadom; that is, the domination of none Tswana groups by the majority of Setswana speakers. The Setswana language must be developed as a lingua franca where there are multiple local languages. It should be restored to its position as a language of national unity. The Motsweding FM situation is therefore instructive since it fashioned the radio station to be “the contemporary voice of Setswana speaking and or understanding South Africans”. This clearly demonstrates that the policy of Motsweding is not just to cater for native speakers of Setswana, but also to be attractive to those to whom Setswana is not a first language. In many ways this has been achieved or it is being achieved by Radio Botswana. However much is yet to be done. More Setswana programs on the multiculturalism of Botswana must be explored. Radio Botswana must be bolder in the promotion of Setswana. Additionally, the commercial radio station, RB2, must air more of its adverts in Setswana. This is largely because over 80% of Batswana speak Setswana as a home language or a second language. Most advertisers are beginning to understand the power of advertising in Setswana. This is clearly seen on many billboards. The leaders in this area for the past 8 years or so are Mascom who have explored Setswana idiomaticity to sell their products. Radio in Botswana needs to have confidence in the ability of the Setswana language to express business and advertising. This will develop and grow the language in the area of business and advertising. This is important because a language grows through use in real life situations. Much also can be learnt from Motsweding FM in terms of its leadership which is impressively young, modern, funky and progressive. Setswana needs young people who will take it forward. The language cannot just depend on the old. It needs the young who are passionate about the past and future of the Setswana language and culture. In Botswana this is especially needed not only at Radio Botswana but also in private radio stations. Youth and being funky must not be made to be synonymous with English but there is a dire need to demonstrate that it is possible in Setswana. Modern music such as Hip-Hop and R&B in Setswana can be used to reinforce the modernity of the Setswana language. The modern state can still be strengthened and developed through a national language. Motsweding FM’s contribution broadly speaking is to bring pride to the Setswana language and culture and unify Setswana speaking communities wherever they might be. There is therefore much that could be learnt from Motsweding FM. The radio provides much hope and direction for many radio stations and media in general, not just in Botswana, but also to the SADC region in general.