What is in a name? If you stop and think about it what is the significance of the name ‘Sydney’, what connotations or memories does it conjure up for you? While the rest of the world knows Sydney as the capital of New South Wales that houses the Sydney Bridge and Opera House; locals will have a more personal and subjective view of what the city name means to them. Now imagine someone changed it to Cadi Djubuguli, (Aboriginal name for Sydney) how would that make you feel? Well that’s the predicament facing South Africa right now; since the end of apartheid (in 1994) 2000 street and monument names have been changed, the trend peaking between 2010 and 2012 with 300 names, including South Africa’s capitol Pretoria to ‘Tswane’ (which is yet to be updated in global maps but is official locally).
To me the whole thing is nothing new, as I was taught in school in Cape Town that the changes were beneficial as it reflected unity between South African’s of all races, and we South Africans generally accept the changes with “equanimity, if not alacrity” (Wines 2007); as these changes replaced apartheid Afrikaner nationalist references with anti- apartheid heroes in an attempt to redress the imbalance and reflect the ‘New South Africa’.
While I had hoped that the debate over renaming Pretoria would have ended similar to the 1994 incident where Natal became KwaZulu-Natal in a compromise to uphold the regions Dutch colonial name and respect the indigenous Zulu tribes, but I Tswane is still good in my books as the name means ‘we are the same’. This form of counter mapping is seen as productive as it created national unity, the counter mapping prevalent in Durban (another South African capitol) is another story as its proposed changes supported the propagandistic agendas of the ANC party solely and caused a political brouhaha.
On May 1, 2012, 6000 marchers protested the proposals to bestow new names on 180 major streets and buildings, people from all cultures banned together to complain not about the process but the proposed names themselves (Smith 2012). The names chose not to honour the role of anti- apartheid heroes but bring glory to the ANC or democrats that had no significance to anti-apartheid or South African history whatsoever; the ANC proposing to name neighbourhoods after Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and Yasir Arafat. The most preposterous suggestion being to name a street after Andrew Zondo an ANC guerrilla that killed 20 white civilians in an 1985 bombing in that very neighbourhood, something John Steenhuisen (head of the Decomocratic Alliance group in Durban) likened to “naming one of the streets in downtown Manhattan after one of the bombers of 9/11” (Smith 2012).
The whole thing in my opinion only reopens old wounds that run deep in the cultural divisions in Durban, not to mention causing further confusion and inconvenience for motorist with already outdated maps; the process is a “countertransformative” (Duminy 2014, p. 312) tactic adopted by the ANC to promote propaganda and control the “politics of representation” (Harris & Zegeye 2003, p.88) , instead of focusing on more pressing matters. This constant need to change names in my opinion reflects the ANC’s insecurities of South Africa’s anti- apartheid status as they continue to feel the need to prove that South Africa is finally democratic.
Duminy, J 2014, Street renaming, symbolic capital, and resistance in Durban, South Africa, Environment and Planning: Society and Space, volume 32, pages 310 – 328
Harris, R.L & Zegeye A 2003, Media, Identity and the Public Sphere in Post- Apartheid South Africa, BRILL : Social Sciences, Cape Town, pp. 74 – 102
Smith, D 2012, Signs of the Times: Street Name debate rages in Pretoria, The guardian, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/25/world/africa/25durban.html?_r=1&
Wines, M 2007, Where the Road to Renaming Does Not Run Smooth, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/mar/23/street-names-debate-pretoria