Sat Oct 22 07:31:44 SAST 2016

It's annoying that some people hold up name change in SA, writes Doreen Zimbizi

By unknown | May 02, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

It's an outrage, I keep thinking. This cannot be right.

How is it that after 13 years of independence, a handful of people can object to a place being given a new name?

They are allowed to take their objection to court, and the highest court in the land agrees with them that consultation was not wide enough, hence Makhado has now reverted back to being called Louis Trichardt.

The Chairpersons' Association of Limpopo Province asked the supreme court of appeal to review the decision by the Minister of Arts and Culture to rename Louis Trichardt Makhado on May 15 2003.

So on March 29, the supreme court ruled in their favour.

With that ruling, the people of what had become Makhado woke up back in Louis Trichardt.

Apart from half-hearted attempts at outrage from the usual suspects, Azapo, the PAC, the ANC and others, I don't hear anyone screaming from the rooftops.

This week, there was another feeble attempt to protest name changes in Durban and Cape Town. Members of the IFP are up in arms at suggestions that Mangosuthu Highway be renamed after Victoria Mxenge.

But really, what is wrong with naming roads, buildings, towns, dorpies and airports after our heroes? What's wrong with changing place names to reflect the political change this country is undergoing?

What's wrong with getting rid of offensive names that have been an irritation for so long?

I have been told that the wide consultation process shows that democracy is for real in Mzansi. This is democracy at its best.

Reverting to Louis Trichardt is a temporary setback. It will be sorted out in time, arts and culture spokesman Sandile Memela told me recently.

Consultations on the name changes have to involve more than onepercent of the residents in the affected areas.

"The municipality will have to redo the consultations," said Memela.

"The process of renaming OR Tambo International Airport took three years. In the meantime, the department unconditionally accepts the court's ruling.

"Makhado will revert to being Louis Trichardt. We will abide by the law."

I asked him about the cost and confusion this might cause, especially in tourism circles.

"There will be confusion for some time, but in the long run it's good for the country that we do things right. This is democracy at work," he said.

"It's an inconvenience, but we have to understand the rule of law. We are doing the right thing. This is part of the process of transformation."

I was not completely sold on his argument so I asked if there was no other way to do this, a middle road, to resolve such issues.

"We are protecting our hard-won democracy here. It's a good thing that people are taking an active interest in such issues," said Memela.

What I cannot get over though is the complaint by Afrikaners that the name-changing process is obliterating their history. What about black people's history? When will it be honoured?

In 1998 the South African Geographical Names Council was set up. When name changes are suggested, the council must ensure that enough consultation is done with all interested parties.

Once it is satisfied that the process has been followed to the letter, it then makes a recommendation to the minister who, if satisfied, ratifies the name change.

This process can be long.

At independence, most African states went through the process of changing colonial names. Maybe it wasn't as involved and as transparent a process as in South Africa, but it happened because that is a natural progression from independence.

I remember the euphoria of Rhodesia becoming Zimbabwe and Harare changing from Salisbury. Years later when I travelled to England I saw some names that had graced our roads and buildings, named after the colonial masters, and no one saw anything wrong with that.

Today, each time I go back home, I battle to remember the old colonial names.

I have just returned from Zimbabwe. As I drove down Herbert Chitepo, Leopold Takawira, Kenneth Kaunda and Julius Nyerere avenues on my way to Mbuyanehanda Hospital, not once did the names sound strange.

Those are my heroes and I cannot imagine going to Cecil John Rhodes Hospital or some such place.

I can hear you sniggering that Zimbabwe is not the best example of anything these days.

But then it was the same in Zambia and Namibia. Change did happen and in the end we all have to learn to live with it.

Maybe this brand of democracy is good for South Africa. But at the cost of people feeling like this is not real freedom? I don't think so.

Something will have to give because we cannot carry on like this.

The new names must confirm South Africa's status as an independent country.

They must make those who live here feel they are enjoying freedom, that they are a people with a rich history.

It cannot be that bad to let your compatriots enjoy that level of freedom and embrace the new status quo.


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