Recently, the Tshwane Metro changed 27 street names in the capital city, Pretoria. Some of the new names include: Oliver Tambo, Lilian Ngoyi, Sisulu, Stanza Bopape, Justice Mohammed and Steve Biko, amongst others.
Brandon Topham, the DA leader in the Tshwane Metro, was quoted in the media expressing delight that the ANC was not pursuing the changes in an insensitive manner. Topham said: “Everyone’s history should be reflected in the city, and nobody is going to end up 100% happy with the process.”
Though Topham’s reference to the ANC’s alleged insensitivity is a case of dying one’s cloth a deeper indigo than that of the bereaved, his statement is an admission that until now, the city’s streets did not reflect our history in its totality.
AfriForum, the rightwing lobby group, has threatened to challenge the name changes in the courts, ostensibly on procedural grounds. But the real objective is hardly opaque: keeping the street names as they are, unchanged.
As usual, AfriForum’s constituency is flooding blogs and ‘social’ and other media platforms with barely concealed commonplace racism.
Tia Mysoa, a blogger, wrote that: “The ANC will carry on relentlessly to advance their agenda of alienating minorities in slow gradual stages, step-by-step, until the entire country reflects a dominant Black African flavour like the rest of Africa.”
For their part, an anonymous respondent wrote: “Goodness, gracious me!! Absolutely unbelievable! Who the heck are all these people anyway? Ive heard of Mandela and Biko and that is about it. Anyone (white or black) that knows Pretoria will know that these name changes affect every single main road and street that criss-crosses Pretoria, north, south, east and west! Pretoria has become a mess as it is- can you just imagine the calamity after these changes. It will take a generation or two to adapt to this craziness!”
A Ronell Smit added: “Although it is common knowledge that taxpayers of the old so called “apartheid regime” paid for the streets, buildings etc in South Africa, and the ANC received it on a gold platter, it goes beyond all sanity why the ANC just keeps on changing and destroying everything in their path that could be connected to white history. All the ANC wants to see is their only history remains in South Africa no matter the cost or who has to pay for it. What is … offensive so called apartheid connection to Church Str or Zambezi Road. All of this is only for one person who wants to claim “look at me, I was the man responsible for destroying the South African history of white people, I deserve a medal.”’
This sentiment is often expressed when name change proposals are made, though it must be argued that in most cases, what is often referred to as a “name change” is in fact a “name restoration” – the restoration of names that were arbitrarily changed during the colonial and apartheid period.
One has in mind names such as “Triomf” (Triumph) replaced “Sophiatown/Kofifi” while, for example, a place like “Musina” warped to “Messina”.
It might be tempting to see names like “Messina” as a benign case of the inability to pronounce the original name on the part of the captains of colonialism and apartheid. However, the pervasion of names is an integral and not a peripheral part and process of the conquest and defeat of a people.
Needless to say that many residents of places like “Musina” continue/d to refer to the places with their original names. It is/was in their official relationship that they had/have no choice but to refer/red to these places with the perverted names. This reflects a grievance on the one hand and a chasm between place names, popular consciousness and aspirations on the other.
Aware that it is impossible to sustain the status quo of the reflection and affirmation of one side of our diverse and conflicting historical reality at the exclusion of others in the spatial environment, AfriForum challenges name changes and restorations on procedural rather than overt political grounds.
Its approach is a fusion of legality and mass mobilisation which whips up racial emotion, avoids and in fact rubbishes questioning why the national capital honours Pretorius Snr and Jnr, Kruger, Van der Walt, Burgers, Visser at the exclusion of Makhado, Sekhukhune, Shaka, Hintsa, Cetshwayo, Moshoeshoe and others.
Whereas the narrative finds resonance in liberal political lexicon such as ‘reflecting everyone’s history’ (Topham) or ‘protection of minorities’ (Mysoa) it always inevitably betrays its ‘swart gevaar,’ and crude racism.
Thus, Mysoa is to be found stoking swart gevaar, with reference to the ANC’s so-called “relentless … agenda of alienating minorities [to] reflect a dominant Black African flavour like the rest of Africa.”
Ignorance is also a celebrated virtue, an integral and mutually reinforcing self-fulfilling element of the structure of racism. Accordingly, Anonymous asks, pejoratively: “Who the heck are all these people anyway? I’ve heard of Mandela and Biko and that is about it.”
What he/she is in fact saying is that ‘since nothing that I do not know cannot and does not exist any claim to the contrary cannot be valid. After all, THEY have no heroes and heroines besides perhaps Mandela and Biko whom I reluctantly accept as exceptions than the rule.’
Naming street names after THEM is of nuisance value since, according to Smit, “it is common knowledge that taxpayers of the … “apartheid regime” paid for the streets, buildings etc in South Africa, and the ANC received it on a gold platter.”
Smit would jump out of her skin if someone pointed to the incompleteness of her story: the streets and the buildings were also built through the proceeds of black tax payers and cheap labour and that the ANC accepted the principle of legal continuity and therefore inherited apartheid’s financial debt, not to mention other social debts.
The racism thus exposed, it becomes easier to see how AfriForum’s supposedly procedural challenge which pretends non-racialism is in fact a political battle for racism which attempts to eclipse such torchbearers of a non-racial society of the caliber of Chief Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu and Bram Fischer, among others.
The challenge for the country is a sustained programme to reverse the legacy of apartheid in all its manifestations. In so far as the nation’s thinking processes are concerned, since education is as much the imparting of skills as it is about values, no where does the opportunity for this affront present itself than in education. South Africa belongs to all who live in it!
JUNE 22, 2012