Telecommunicating, Clarens-style

TV, harbinger of kommunisme, arrived in South Africa in 1976. This in spite of the Nationalist Party’s Posts and Telecommunications Minister Albert Hertzog’s determination not to telecommunicate.

Hertzog had vowed that television would come to South Africa over his dead body, denouncing it as ‘a miniature bioscope over which parents would have no control’. He also argued that ‘imported fillums showing race mixing and advertising would make non-white Africans (or ‘plurals’) dissatisfied with their lot.’ Their God-ordained lot. The new medium was the ‘devil’s own box, for disseminating kommunisme and immorality.’ This, naturally, made people curious. The influential Dutch Reformed Church, the National Party at prayer, saw the new medium as ‘degenerate and immoral’. This, naturally, made people curious. No doubt vey had to send a few dominees oorsee to check and make sure it was as bad as vey fought. Dominees can be like that. Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd was also full of wisdom, comparing television to atomic bombs and poison gas – ‘vey are modern fings, but vat does not mean vey are desirable. The goverrinmint has to watch for any dangers to ve people, both spiritual and physical.’ That was onse Hennerik, now reduced to a street name.

Very prescient of them all: I mean do we have free speech and human rights now? See! They TOLD you so! Not to even mention the scourge of ree-hality TV.

But vere was no holding back ve small bioscope. TV came to South Africa irregardless, only not to Clarens. Citizens of Clarens had to listen enviously to Bethlehem se mense when they spoke of staring at the test pattern or watching The World At War.

Then came The Dingleys and The Villagers, as well as comedy series Biltong and Potroast’s SA vs British comedians shootout, and variety program The Knicky Knacky Knoo Show. Also The Sweeney in Afrikaans, called Blitspatrollie locally. Things were now getting Crucial in Clarens! The frustrasie mounted.

Then: A breakthrough! Someone discovered there was TV reception on the top of Mount Horeb which looms above the dorp! Mount Horeb, where Moses got the Ten Commandments, was about to beam down much breaking of the seventh and tenth commandments – the ones about adultery and coveting your neighbour’s wife’s ass. Yes, Mount Horeb is near Clarens, as is Bethlehem and the River Jordan. They wrote a book about it.

What was needed was a ‘repeater’. A what? A repeater. You get an aerial to catch the signal, then a repeater, then another aerial aimed down at the dorp and voila (or ‘daar’s hy’): you have TV.

Steve Reed, son of hizzonner, the incumbent Lord Mayor of Clarens at that historic time, writes of the ‘many trips up Mount Horeb: At one stage we enlisted the TV expert from the Bethlehem TV shop – Haas Das. Two-way radios were used to speak to the manne down in the dorp, hunched over the test TV set:

“Hoe lyk die picture nou? Over”

“Nee man dis net sneeu – Over”

“En nou? Over”

“Dis nog steeds net sneeu. Over”

“Daar’s hy! Wag! Ag, nee, weer net sneeu. Over”

Ens ens…”

So that was done, and TV arrived in Clarens to groot vreugde and great joy. The mense didn’t know it at ve time, but they had embarked on learning to speak Engels.


And then it died. Wat de hel gaan aan? Telephone lines buzzed heen en weer. The battery’s flat. What battery? Ja, it has a battery to drive the repeater. Wat!? O bliksem. So a roster had to be drawn up for the townsfolk – die dorpsmense – the villagers to take turns driving up Mount Horeb to change ve battery and bring ve flat one down to charge it. Daily. Every day. (Moses se Moses, he only went up Mount Horeb once).

Porters Hella Hella (6)
—   Here’s a different home-made repeater aerial; Same battery-changing chore —  This one at Hella Hella outside Richmond in KZN —

Then there was Peace on Earth and Goodwill toward Men. Except if men forgot their roster slot. Then there was hell to pay. Later a wind charger was installed so they didn’t have to change ve batteries every day.


harbingeranything that foreshadows a future event; omen; sign

kommunisme – communism; a vague concept, undefined, but BAD; don’t ask

fillums – motion pictures

devil’s own box – duiwel se eier doos

dominees oorsee – I’m guessing they sent preachers overseas to patriotically and dutifully watch porn

vey fought – they thought

goverrinmint – guvmint; Pik Botha discovered the ‘R’ in guvmint, his only achievement as Minister of Foreign Affairs. He was actually better at Local Affairs, taking gewillige meisies to farms for frolics around the braai

gewillige meisies – willing lasses

Bethelehem se mense – Bethlehem’s TV-enabled people

frustrasie – frustration, impotence, FOMO

dorp – village

daar’s hy – there it is, Suzelle; voila

manne – the boys

“Hoe lyk die picture nou? Over” – What’s the picture look like? Over

“Nee man dis net sneeu – Over” – No man, its just snow – Over

“En nou? Over” – And now? Over

“Daar’s hy! Wag! Ag, nee, weer net sneeu. Over” – shit! Over

Ens ens... – etc etc

groot vreugde – tidings of great joy

Wat de hel gaan aan? – WTF; What gives? Whatsa happening?

O bliksem – Oh shit

se Moses – like . . . “that was nothing!”


I wanted to know more about how they did this, so I asked –

The South African Radio League

The National Association for Amateur Radio in South Africa

Proudly serving Amateur Radio since 1925

and got a reply from Jaap:

Yes this is no secret, in fact we at the SABC / Sentech, encouraged the use of TV repeaters for the smaller communities, and at one stage there were more privately owned “self- help” TV stations than those we ran for the SABC.

The right way to do this was to purchase a transposer, a combined TV receiver and transmitter that will receive a TV signal on one channel, then re-broadcast the signal on another channel. This could be UHF-UHF or VHF-VHF or VHF-UHF. Then you need a receive antenna and transmit antenna. Install on a high structure, such as a grain silo or mountain top. This transposers was in the order of 1-10 Watts output. This then would receive the distant TV signal from the TX station through a front-end amplifier on one channel before feeding into the transposer, and transmitting it on another channel.

The cheap and dirty, crude way was to get hold of a VCR with AV out, a TV tuner with a AV output, or even a modified TV set. The AV output would then be taken to a TV modulator, which you can buy off the shelf, and then tune it to a suitable channel, and then put the RF into a amplifier that could be home-built or even a commercial distribution (set-back amplifier ) connect it to the antenna and away you go. Equipment could be bought from your local TV spares/ equipment dealer, Ellies Electronics, Space TV, or even your local co-op store. Drawback was that only one channel, normally TV3 (SABC3) could be re-broadcasted like this, any other additional channels would have to have identical set-ups.

According to the law, such self-help stations had to be licensed by the SABC, but many of them did not bother to do so. Obviously the home-brewed equipment was very prone to causing interference as the amplifiers they used was not channelized, with no filtering whatsoever.

In all instances the equipment had to be placed so that the clearest possible signal could be received and the maintenance of such repeaters was obviously the responsibility of that community.

Voila! or daar’s hy . .

Published by bewilderbeast

It's about life, marriage, raising kids, paddling rivers, travel in Africa . . . re-posting thoughts written over decades - at random, I'm afraid.

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