Thursday, 24 May 2007

Name changes, yes, but more sensitivity and wisdom needed

What's in a name? Does the debacle around name changes contribute to nation building or is it a symptom of the fragmentation of South African society, asks Terry Grove, a guest writer for the blog.

Almost daily there are reports in either the print or electronic media about impending name changes to streets, towns or buildings. Newspapers have spawned articles and their letter pages attests to the public’s interest in the often heated and very emotional subject. Many South Africans are working themselves into a frenzy about this.

Some are mounting challenges in the Constitutional court – Louis Trichardt vs Makhado – and still others are prepared to take up arms to defend what they see as an attack on what they hold dear, as in KwaZulu-Natal.

There have already been protest marches against the renaming of Mangosuthu Highway and Princess Magogo Stadium and unless agreement is reached, the province will be plunged into renewed violence. This is particularly disturbing in the light of the more than 20 000 people that have already died in the province alone due to political intolerance.

The ruling party sends out mixed messages regarding nation building and reconciliation when it comes to name changes. On the one hand you have them bending over backwards to accommodate everyone with the National anthem and retention of the Springbok emblem for the national rugby team.

Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika has been ruined for quite a number of us. What was wrong with having it translated into 11 languages? Not that I am arguing for it to be sung in all eleven languages. This after all is supposed to be a democracy and surely the people can choose in which language they want to sing the Anthem. Instead we have a badly cobbled, mish-mash of a national anthem that jars when sung.

What is evident is that the ruling party is not reading and interpreting the signs around the very sensitive issue of name changes correctly. Unpalatable decisions are sometimes foisted on the nation with scant regard to the long term damage. There is a pretense at consultation and inclusivity. How many citizens know how the South African Geographical Names Council works? We do not even know who serves on that committee and how they came to be elected.

That there should be street, place and building name changes, there is no doubt. But the whole process should be handled with more sensitivity, insight and consideration. Of course, we do not want the villains (of all stripes) of the past and present to be immortalized. But we certainly want the heroes and heroines of all camps, colours and creeds to be honoured. This is part of nation building.

We are also mindful that the mistakes and injustices of the past should not be repeated. In the bad old days, so called ‘black spots’ were excised and maps redrawn. These were not only name changes, people were forcibly removed from places like Sophiatown and District Six and the towns were renamed Triomf and Zonnebloem. People are still bearing the emotional scars and pain of the forced removals and having place names wiped off the national map.

Then there is the name of our country the Republic of South Africa. Why do we not have a referendum about changing the name of our country? At present it denotes a location or direction but certainly does not do justice to us as a nation. We have many examples of painless country name changes in our immediate vicinity, Namibia, Botswana, Malawi and Zambia to name just a few.

Is the nation building project being abandoned for short term political gains?

Terry Grove

1 comment:

karen ruth lazar said...

am I in the minority regarding the National Anthem?
whilst Terry Grove calls the national anthem a "mishmash", I call for higher tolerance of things cobbled together-hybridity is de facto and de jure part of nation-building too
people have the power to choose which verses of the hybrid they sing or don't sing,and in which language.A composite is sometimes less exclusionary than a singular monolingual anthem