Major advertisers are threatening to pull the plug over plans by the South African Broadcasting Corp. to phase out Afrikaans from its flagship channel, TV1.

Plans leaked to the media show that Afrikaans, which currently enjoys 50% of airtime, with English taking the other half, will have its time cut down to around 10%.

Afrikaans, the lingua franca of the former white minority government, is understood by about 60% of the population and is the native language of some 20%.

Until all-race elections in April last year brought Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) to power, Afrikaans was, with English, one of two official languages.

A political settlement, which paved the way for the historic poll, however, determined that English should be the main language of the country, and that 10 other languages, including Afrikaans, should be regarded as “official.”

English reserve

The SABC’s way of handling the change, according to the plans, has been to reserve TV1 for English and share the other 10 languages out on its other two channels, CCV and NNTV.

Publication of the leaked report drew fire last week from white right-wing Afrikaans speakers, who marched on SABC headquarters in Johannesburg, packing pistols, carrying banners and, on arrival, smashing TV sets in protest at the phasing out of Afrikaans.

SABC spokesman Gert Claassen tried to damp down the fires by saying the plans were only one of a number of proposals being considered by the pubcaster.

He refused to say what the other plans were, adding all will be revealed on March 6 when the new lineup is launched.

But SABC insiders claim the corporation is backtracking smartly, having been warned by advertisers that they are not prepared to air their product on a channel which is not reaching their main market – middle to upper class whites, mainly Afrikaaners.

According to news reports, TV1’s advertising revenue for March and April is sharply down as advertisers wait for the channel to be unveiled.

Like viewers, they have warned they may defect to pay TV station M-Net should it not meet with their satisfaction.

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