2005-02-09-Soweto radio shames adulturers

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2005-02-09-Soweto radio shames adulturers


What could be more provocative than a radio programme which exposes adulterers with their pants down?

Womanisers and man-eaters all over Soweto in South Africa now live in fear of being exposed on a popular weekly show called Cheaters.

Two women sit in a darkened studio glaring at each other. Mpho Nanazo, the wronged wife, is furious.

She says that she's been left at her home night after night with her small son, while her partner, Veli, has been having an affair with a schoolgirl.

The "schoolgirl" is actually a 21-year-old in a track suit and a ponytail.

She doesn't seem very repentant and answers questions in a sulky monotone.

Ten minutes into the show, all hell breaks loose when Mpho calls the younger woman a slut and slaps her hard across the face.

As security guards separate the women, Veli, the man they are fighting over, sits silently examining his fingernails.

Scenes like this are broadcast every Thursday night on one of South Africa's best-known community radio stations, Jozi FM.

Based in Soweto, the station grew out of the struggles against apartheid and was first granted a licence nearly a decade ago.

Today it is the focal point of this Johannesburg suburb of two million people. Jozi is the place where residents can make their voices heard on issues like education, fighting corruption and street crime.

Aids and infidelity

Last year, the radio station began broadcasting Cheaters, based on an American TV programme which exposes sexual infidelity.

But in South Africa, where more than a fifth of the population is infected with HIV, cheating is not just a matter of broken hearts and marriages - it is often a matter of life and death.

Jozi FM's station manager Mpoho Mhlongo says the show was designed to inform the public about Aids as well as attracting new listeners.

"We wanted to get people to think a bit more about their life styles - we wanted to create a proper debate about sexual behaviour and get people to discuss these issues candidly.

"Of course it was also good for the ratings - people were even talking about our show in Cape Town!"

Nowadays, only fools would choose a Thursday night for a spot of extramarital sex.

The station has a team of investigators led by a man known as K-9 because he has a dog-like ability for sniffing out illicit affairs.

Prince, one of the co-hosts, says that reluctant guests are sometimes tricked into taking part in the show.

One tactic involves creating a noisy scene outside the suspects' homes and then luring them into the studio.

Sometimes even the local police get involved when cheating partners are asked to come in for questioning over some petty charge and then they are whisked off to Jozi FM instead.

The police say they are just escorting the "contributors" to ensure that nobody is injured.

A private security firm is also on hand to make sure things don't get out of control and everybody is frisked at the entrance in case they try to bring weapons into the radio station.

African rules

Mr Mhlongo, the station manager, admits he was nervous about the threat of violence and after the first few episodes he announced he was scrapping the show.

But that proved an even bigger headache for Jozi FM. Hundreds of angry listeners came to protest in front of the studio and eventually the riot police had to be called in.

"They only went home after we promised to bring the programme back," says Mr Mhlongo.

"I was surprised to discover how popular it had become - especially with women. Many told us that their husbands come home earlier now and spend more time playing with their children. They're scared of ending up on our show."

The show has its critics as well as its devotees.

Many dismiss it as exploitative and in the worst possible taste.

Some of the men listening live to the show in the Jozi FM car park on Thursday night argue that an American-style show which promotes monogamy is out of place in Africa.

They claim that the successful African male is expected to provide for a number of different women and their children.

"That was how our grandfathers and father lived - those are our rules," says one man in a firm tone of voice.

But what are the consequences of those rules in a country where, according to the United Nations, Aids is now killing 1,000 people a day?

Voyeurism

Phumzile, a woman with HIV recently went on the Cheaters program to report her boyfriend - a promiscuous taxi driver.

He was HIV positive and one of his former girlfriends has already died.

He was always sorry, says Phumzile, but he didn't change his behaviour - only his women.

But it is not just men who get exposed on Cheaters.

Recently a middle-aged Zulu man called Themba who had been with his wife for nearly 10 years, suddenly discovered she was two-timing him with two other men.

"When I went to the studio, my heart was racing - I'd had enough of my woman fooling around and I was planning to shoot her boyfriend. But they found the gun and took it off me."

For people like Themba, the Cheaters show is anything but entertainment.

Jozi FM recognises the trauma factor and works in partnership with a number of local groups to offer counselling after the programme.

Desree of the Lungello Women's Organisation says that at first she wasn't keen on the Jerry Springer-like voyeurism of Cheaters but she now believes it can play a useful role.

"We do get feedback positively and negatively. Controversy has its good side to it," she says.

"I think for me the key thing for me is that people won't become desensitised by the show. I am hoping that people will come out of Cheaters saying let me get myself sorted out, let me fix things."

 


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