Lives of scores of Chinese retail operators in Francistown and thousands of Zimbabwean cross border traders has been potentially thrown into disarray following the abrupt encryption of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) signal.
For a substantial period of time, viewers across the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region have relied on pirate decoders – a development that created jobs for many Zimbabweans in the informal sector.
Thousands of Zimbabwean cross border traders have been frequenting Botswana’s second largest city due to its proximity to the neighboring Zimbabwe to buy pirate decoders for reselling in their country.
These visits provided Chinese retail operators in Francistown with huge business.
The pirate decoders have been a common site in rural areas, farming communities and urban townships of Zimbabwe with as many as 50 satellite dishes hanging at one township hostel.
South African soapies such as Generations and Isidingo enjoyed a huge following in Zimbabwe.
Disconnection followed a ruling by the Johannesburg High Court last year ordering Sentech, a South African television signal carrier, to encrypt its signal within three months after eBotswana, a subsidiary of South Africa’s e.tv, asked Sentech to scramble its signal due to signal piracy.
At the beginning of this month, doom was spelt on both Zimbabwean cross border traders and the Chinese shop operators here following the scrapping off of the most followed SABC 1, 2 and 3.
“Our lives have been thrown into total disarray,” lamented Moses Chiunya of Mhondoro-Ngezi, situated in the southeastern part of Zimbabwe.
33-year-old Chiunya has been buying Philibao and Wiztech pirate decoders for reselling in Zimbabwe since 2004.
This is after many information-starved Zimbabweans relied on regional and international media for current affairs and developments in their own country.
“Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings (ZBH) owns the only television and all the radio stations in the country. And everything channeled through them is pro-ZANU PF,” he said, adding that the free-to-air decoders helped them to be kept entertained and get a bit of diverse and balanced news.
Monica Jaravaza, another Zimbabwean cross border trader said the SABC encryption has marked the demise of her business.
Most of her clients live in Zimbabwe’s remote areas where Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) television is inaccessible.
“Zimbabweans in the remote areas relied on free-to-air decoders because ZBC television as well as radio do not reach every corner of the country,” said a worried Jaravaza.
She is now trying her luck in selling shoes, but the business is not as viable as the decoder trade.
Jaravaza said there are a lot of shoe making factories in Zimbabwe also being run by the Chinese.
A Chinese trader, who declined for his name to be mentioned also complained that the business has plummeted since the encryption of the SABC on free-to-air decoders.
“We are doomed. I think this is the end of us in Botswana,” said the Chinese trader whose shop is situated along the busy Haskins Street.