Name Changes, Restorations and Racism

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!

Mukoni Ratshitanga

JUNE 22, 2012


13 thoughts on “Name Changes, Restorations and Racism

  1. Personnaly the Street names Change is done with Hatred and Anger towards a certain race and therefore costly and unjustified…only the so called educated use the cheaper ways of scoring political points to enrich themselves nothing else infact,
    Why don’t they first change Apartheid names they’re carrying in their I’D and Passports before going to street after all to change your name is less than R100 but changing street names in Big Cities cost millions hence Majority of people are starving…If we look at the Demography of this Country poor and uneducated constitutes three fold of the educated(minority) you think they care on your changes they probably don’t even notice..Change Airports only where you rich fly.
    Messina will remain Messina,Polokwane is not even used in our Daily communication…we are always saying Pietersburg,Louis Trichardt will remain and Pretoria will remain…it is the legacy built and unlikey to fade now.

    Name change is a waste of Money People are starving and need to see results today because they don’t understand…Good leaders are elected to serve not bring Europeans research Methodolgies in Ethnic infested Africa..

    1. All I can say wow, your response to the debate betrays your own understanding of issues and the pysche of the majority of people in this country. It also betrays your lack of understanding of why we have place names. It further betrays your lack of understanding of the reasons why in this country we always had dual names for most of towns and cities. Furthermore your comparison of place name with individual names also betrays your understanding of the native/national question in this country. First I talk and write as a son of a peasant whose land was dispossed by the 1913 Land Act… I will stop there because anyone who knows about the Land Act and its results on the natives of this country would talk a different language.. Anyone who has studied the Anglo_Boer war of 1899-1901 would talk a different language. ask yourself what was the impact of this war on the native question. I rest my point.

    2. The only valid and debatable point you made was around the economic cost of name changes.The rest of what you said is indefensible hogwash. Those places had names before, and then we learnt to call them by the names endowed upon them by the new powers. just because you dont see yourself unlearning the old names and learning the new ones does not mean “it is the legacy built and is unlikely to fade”.

  2. There are so many angles concerning the issue of name changing. The saddest part about it is that politicians will in most cases manipulate it for their direct benefit, that is, change the names when it suites them the most with total disregard to the economic impact that changing the names has on an already burdened economy. People or organisations such as Afri Forum need not have any space in the media because theirs is to push a racist agenda. We do NOT need such people or such organisations. The question that begs to be answered is why the name change now & not in the 90’s? I have no problem with changing street names to reflect a balance of the equation but I certainly don’t think it is a PRIORITY issue in view of the current problems we face….

  3. The way ANC is doing it does not reflect the demographics of our society. It is just a plain blatant reflection of history being written by victors. There were other liberation movements that contributed equally to the destruction of Apartheid, and those too have the pool of leaders that has to made legacy. It is selfish to use the name Mandela more than twenty times while other leader’s names are still to be used. The liberation of South Africans was a concerted effort both internally and externally. Some leaders who were incarcerated with the ANC leaders who happen to be from other liberation movements have been thrown into dustbin of history.

  4. When are some of our important places here eMzantsi going to be named after our Second Democratic President. I cant remember seeing a place named after our former president. Remind if I am not correct.

  5. The keywords are balance and sensitivity. Personally I believe we should rather use future projects to “equalise” the representation of the population. We need more road, universities and other infrastructures, its such projects that I believe should be named after our “black leaders”. This is where our opportunity to leave “our” legacy lies. A legacy that is relevant in that it reflects the history of when it was built.

  6. Freedom charter has it’s own shortcoming, South Africa belongs to african people the black race, we do not have the problem for other races to stay and share the expertise in our land because africans have humanity/ubuntu, name change should be fully implemented in every part of our land.

  7. I think it is arrogant for anyone to suggest that the costly name changes should take Priority and bears no reason why someone thinks he/she understand better…it is absolutely not necessary …South Africa is faced by enough Challenges.than dwelling on the Past…My point here is does this name change means a lot to Majority who are poor and starving except the so called educated but stupid minds that continue to dig the unnecessary things happened in the past afterall we are moving forward or are we not…yes I still stick my finger in it…Change your Apartheid names first…then we can get rid of the streets….since we have many Activists in this to be honoured Maybe we can just name Community Street lights in Every street ..everytime it lights their names will appear….because we are very close to even change the Robot…to “Nelsom Mandela Robot” or ANC Robort since we are running out of ideas to splash cash when Majority are suffering….are they suffering because there is Apartheid streetname or because money is spent on streetname change Phenomenon…maybe is what we should be asking ourselves ?,

  8. Thanks for this article. It has at least, unmasked the Afriforum as a racist organisation hell bent to defend white gains, history and privileges at any cost.

  9. People should understand for the street names to change the municipality give the community to come up with names and opportunity to reject names, u cannot blame ANC, by blaming the ruling party shows u not taking part in what’s happening to ur local municipality. I do blive batho pele principal were done before the names were changed.

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