There was a time, not so long ago, when local television was so flooded by American, British and European programmes and dramas that the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), a predecessor to the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) decided to legislate a quota for local content versus overseas as a major to introduce some parity. Broadcasters, for reasons best known to them have always argued that it was cheaper to buy overseas material than to produce local, even at the time when the rand was strong against major currencies. The councilors at ICASA, arts and culture department and nationalists were concerned that African culture was being eroded by Eurocentric, Anglo and Yankee under-rated ideas that Africans were soon being seduced to forget who they really were - altruistic souls that can't kick a person when they are down. The world was indeed becoming a small space, a hegemonic global village and for progressive democracies like South Africa it was imperative to move faster to counter-act the cultural invasion.

As a result, television broadcasters were set targets for local content to reach by a set time frame. At the time programme buyers were complaining that it is cheaper to buy overseas material than to produce local ones and funny enough they were not asking themselves why were the overseas studios so enthusiastic about dumping their rubbish at such a low price. They argued that they can procure from major studios overseas, then simulcast the language to reflect a South African linguistic reality. That is why there was a German drama which was called Misdaad, which was simulcast in Afrikaans even though the characters did not like boerewors and were far from rugby fans.

There was also a programme called Kodiyamalla Lefifing la Bosiu (In the Heat of the Night) where American cops spoke fluent Setswana. It was really funny because then there was Radio 2000 which was the simulcast station and sometimes when you tuned in to 2000 you got the funny glitches that indicate interference with the television signal. For fans of military propaganda there was Sending Vietnam (Mission to Vietnam) which was in Afrikaans and Vendetta for those who wanted to glorify Italian mobsters. What was really interesting was that even the Viet Cong guerillas in Sending Vietnam, with their slit eyes spoke suiwer Afrikaans.

Then ICASA realised that if such a dumb argument was allowed to stand it meant that South Africans will never learn to produce their own dramas, which would have meant an arrested development for the African Renaissance vision and the realisation of slain Congolese President Patrice Lumumba that 'Africa shall write her own history'. Truly you can't paint your own beautiful picture ontop of an already painted canvas. And such an argument lacked substance because the money they wanted to spare belonged to the license payers and the taxpayer.

Shows bought in America were quick to inform us about the innercity decay in Brooklyn and South Central without dropping a hint that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was responsible for the drugs that killed those communities. No show tried to inform about the crack-babies of South Central Los Angeles or the annihilation of the Black Panthers by eroding their bastions with crack. They were not telling us that while black people were not owning gun manufacturing and retailing companies in the US they were still the largest group that had a tendency to shoot at each other. Tupac Shakur even rapped, "give them guns/ stand back/ watch them kill each other". Darkies did not have money for food but they afforded buying automatic rifles (military issue AR15s) and expensive crack which cost far more than a trolley-full of grocery. They were a minority in the land of the free but majorities in prisons and on the war front.

The fruits of ICASA's wisdom can now be seen in the production of local quality shows and dramas like that of Duma Ka Ndlovu (pictured above) Muvhango (SABC2), Isidingo (SABC3), Generations , Zone 14 (SABC1), Scandal, Backstage (etv) and tens more. Some, like Madam and Eve and Yizo-Yizo have even gone to win awards overseas. What is more encouraging is that some of the shows explore the cross cultural reality of South African. They explore our crime situation Interrogation Room (SABC1), or humour in Madhouse (etv), our multiplicity of ethnic groups in Isidingo and our diversity in 7de Laan (SABC2)

If ever ICASA did harbour such bold intentions, one can't help but wonder what would be dominating our television screens today; stories about Americans refusing to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan? Or maybe dramas of dubious reputations like Sex and the City (SABC3) and Six Feet Under (etv). Or maybe we would have a million HBO dramas like The Sopranos and Oz.

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