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17 June 2010

Zimbabwe's Dish Mania

I was going through Sakubva this other day, when I saw a guy fiddling with cables on a rooftop. He was trying to install a satellite dish on top of a house. Now, there is absolutely nothing strange with someone fiddling on a rooftop trying to install a satellite dish. Actually, it is a very common scene in this part of the world, finding someone fiddling with cable on a rooftop trying to install a satellite dish. What did strike me as funny (Note: funny ‘queer’ and not funny ‘ha ha’) was that this particular roof had four satellite dishes on the top already.

Let’s put things into perspective. Sakubva is a high density suburb (the highest density suburb) in the petit Zimbabwean border town of Mutare. The residents of this place have arguably the lowest incomes in the city as far as formal employment is concerned. If you want an explanation, though, of why Zimbabwe’s unemployment is pegged at 80%, yet (almost) no one spends the day basking in the sun for want of something better to do, you need to visit this place. It’s bustling to the brim with informal trade. But that is beside the point. The point is that Sakubva represents a good population of the financially challenged Zimbabwean, yet the Household - Satellite dish ratio seems to defy this fact.

On my way out of Sakubva, I started working on a theory that might be able to explain the phenomena and came up with one. It is based on the nature of the average Zimbabwean mindset: we are simply fun loving people! (Yeah, I know, we beat the living daylights out of each other during the elections…and during controversial soccer matches…but come on, who doesn’t?) We love fun and we love to be entertained, and we have cunningly recognized that having digital television broadcasts into our homes facilitates the satisfaction of this need.

Satellite dishes, coupled with free to air decoders, bring a host of channels into the Zimbabwean household. The most watched are probably the South African SABC Channels, and maybe news channels such as the Skynews. The favorite used to be a certain South African e-t.v, well known for its wrestling matches and late night blue movies (See, sex and violence really sell!). That was before the channel’s signal became encrypted into the DSTV elite family of pay channels. But that is only one channel lost…so far. The bottom line: a bunch of channels providing practically free entertainment. ‘Practically’ means that you still have to pay for the dish, the LNB and decoder, of course, but after forking out about $100, you get digital entertainment for life!

It sounds like a good deal, and a brief look at the other options might go a long way in explaining why it could be the best for most people:-

Second option: You watch the Zimbabwean terrestrial channel ZTV, and if you are lucky enough to be living in the country’s capital, the newly launched ZTV2 as well. Granted, it is very educative. I mean, now I know what, where and exactly when to plant my winter crop next year, as well as the pesticide I can protect my plants with - and that’s only from watching prime time television!

Third option: You go the DSTV way where you get (**!) channels at (**!) $US in monthly subscriptions (This is not an advertorial; visit the Multichoice website or your local friendly dealer for information). These are real US dollars we are talking about, and these are real monthly payments for a populace that doesn’t even believe in insurance premiums. However, you do get digital ZTV thrown in as an extra. HD coming soon.

Fourth option: Sell the TV.

On weighing the three options, it doesn’t need an engineer (we don’t have rocket scientists in Zimbabwe) to understand why the average Zimbabwean will choose to go illegal. You might need a specialist of some sort though, to explain exactly why it is illegal to be watching especially the SABC Channels in Zimbabwe, or any other place outside of South Africa for that matter. Simply put, the theory for the satellite dish mania that has hit this country, particularly Sakubva, is that Zimbabwe is an entertainment loving, albeit entertainment starved, nation which has discovered a loophole in digital broadcast arena enabling it to