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SOWETAN | Show gusto for people's needs too

Unveiling of Winnie Mandela Drive at George Lea Park in Sandton.
Unveiling of Winnie Mandela Drive at George Lea Park in Sandton.
Image: Antonio Muchave

The symbolism behind the renaming of William Nicol to Winnie Mandela Drive by the City of Johannesburg on Tuesday is undeniably significant.

Although name changes have in the past caused controversy, the need to do away with the legacy of apartheid and  immortalise Struggle heroes is well understood. This is because memorialising those who fought for freedom is an important part of nation building, reconciliation and preserving our history for future generations.

Therefore, the occasion of honouring Winnie Madikizela-Mandela is welcome. What stands at odds with reality though is where the priorities of those in government today lie.

The City of Johannesburg, which embarked on the initiative to rename the road several years ago, has been beset by a myriad of problems that have negatively affected its residents. These include unemployment, crime, collapsing infrastructure, exploding streets and residents being left without water for days.

Yet, the greatest energy by politicians in charge of the city appeared geared towards the renaming of the road. In fact, so politicised was the occasion that it became a battleground contest between the ANC and EFF in the city through posters staking a claim to the occasion. The two parties, which are part of the governing coalition of the city, turned the renaming ceremony into their parties’ regalia battleground with flags hoisted high.

Their street renaming contest spurred on by next year’s elections would have, however, done little to comfort  ordinary citizens concerned about bread and butter issues. If anything, it did more harm than good with political opportunism that has the hallmark of the city’s dysfunction on display.

The city’s decay and service delivery collapse are because of instability that has been a permanent character of its governance for years because of coalition politics. So, let’s dispense with the idea that those asking why renaming a road takes priority over fixing some of the structural problems are anti-transformation and progress. It couldn’t be further from the truth.

We must care about immortalising our heroes as we do about addressing the pressing needs of ordinary citizens today. It’s not an either-or situation. But when our politicians show gusto at the renaming of a road after an icon like Madikizela-Mandela but fail to attend to peoples urgent needs, they lose moral authority to speak about its symbolism.

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