Name changing in South Africa was measured, but…

Marcel Berlin is uneasy about a recent almost sudden acceleration in South Africa of the process of changing of names, ostensibly to obliterate remnants of its Boer past.

Recent events in Durban, culminating in protest marches and violence earlier this month, have put name-changing into a new, politically controversial arena. The city (now part of a newly named metropolis, eThekwini) has embarked on a wholesale eradication of place references to colonial and apartheid era figures, and their substitution by world freedom-fighting icons (Che Guevara, Yasser Arafat, etc) and ANC activists, many of them obscure.

I am not suggesting that no other names have been changed or discarded in South Africa, but, until Durban’s mass attack, the pace of the changes has been measured, relaxed and understandable. It took several years for international airports to shed the names of former prime ministers from the bad days; only last year was Johannesburg’s airport renamed after the late, revered president of the ANC, Oliver Tambo. Pretoria is on course to become Tshwane (an African chief), though some of it will still remain Pretoria and there is a fear that too comprehensive a changeover will confuse visitors coming to South Africa for the football World Cup in 2010. There are other examples of name change, and one case of a town that was ordered to revert to its old name (an Afrikaans hero) because it hadn’t followed the proper procedures for renaming.

What troubles me about the Durban initiative is that it shows a meaner, more vengeful, less conciliatory spirit which, I fear, may be catching. It’s all symbolic, I know, but it gives me just a tiny, additional worry about the future.

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  • IJP

    An excellent article, Mick, thanks for bringing it to our attention.

    Every word rings true (sadly, as I share the sense of despair about South Africa’s future that such apparently minor things indicate) – and there’re many lessons to learn.

  • IJP

    Btw, you may want to change the headline – name changing in “South Africa was measured”. In the “South”, the residents of Dingle may beg to differ!

  • joeCanuck

    Goodbye Craigavon?

  • Aldamir

    South Africa seems to be starting down the well trodden African road to ruin….

  • Benn

    In South Africa it’s clear who the losers are, and to an extent, who the winners are (my caveat being that majority rule may eliminate a tragic injustice, but it doesn’t guarantee justice. Anyway…) It’s not yet entirely clear who the winners are here. Can the name changing and other iconic reconfiguration take place before the north/south east/west thing is sorted out? Which names, if any, are going to be spray painted off the signs, and which flags will fly over Long Kesh/Maze?

  • DK

    It’s not such a problem in NI where most towns have Irish names, even if the spelling is not in the correct format. Exceptions for re-naming are:

    Londonderry – to become Plowonidadoire (Plowonida is the original celtic name that became Londinium and then London)
    Stewartstown, Cookstown – revert to Irish
    Craigavon – to become Paisley-McGuinness

  • overhere

    “but it gives me just a tiny, additional worry about the future.”

    Where has this guy been since ANC rule, living on Mars?

    The bigest problem in South Africa is crime over 20,000 murders per year, (not wishing to trivilise the 3,500 murders in N.I. but is does put things into perspective), this is not including rape and robberies.

    Changing the names of places is simply a sop to the masses who follow the ANC while the ruling class live the high life.

    Leading members of the ruling party are sent to jail for offences and instead of having any shame are treated like heros as they walk into the jail and then when finishing their “sentence” pick up where they left off. The minister for Rural Affairs sais last year the perhaps they could learn something from Zimbabue and how they sorted out their land reforms, thanksfully this was condemed by most right thinking people.

    No one least of all my South African friends and in-laws condones the Arpatheid system but they are fearful of the future and have been for quite a few years. Job prospects are bad as their is a positive discrimination system in place which is not based on, for example two people with the same qualifications being interviews the non white person will get the job. I have no problem with this if this was how it worked, unfortunately it is not resulting in the result that there are people in positions of management who simply do not know what they are doing which in turn leads to services being cut, power failures and general frustration by those who can and could do the job.

  • juan

    the rape figure i heard was that ‘1 in 3 women from the entire population will be directly effected’,

    I respect the right of African people to choose their own destiny for good or ill, and to plough their own furrow,again for good or ill, but when this pursuit of destiny starts to mar and degrade others, in this instence, there must be consideration for Africas odd tribe, the Afrikaners, it seems to me that the SA state, quite apart from its modern disfunctions that the Afrikans should not have to suffer, is incapable of valuing these people or constructing a system for them to live under that reflects their morals, traditions and values, and although the Irish mindset has a habit of denoting ‘goodies and badies’ and attaching worth to people and communities regulated by this distinction, (sometimes on truely bizarre criteria),
    I would suggest that as a distinct cultural entity the Afrikaaner people have as much right to opt out of ANC South Africa, where they are not valued and indeed their history is being porposfully removed (I have yet to see the hospitals, roads, electricity stations etc. build with Afrikaaner intelectual property being ‘obliterated’), as The African had to opt out of Apartheid, I would suggest independance from South Africa (a nation they built) is the only answer and that the peoples of the world should commit to justice and secure an Afrikaaner homeland in the Natal.

  • Aldamir

    I can’t help thinking that the best thing that an African “liberation movement” can do once its country gets independence is to go home and retire.

    Many of the previous generation of African kleptocrats were the leaders of their country’s liberation movements. They deployed the violence and ruthlessness that they had used against their colonial overlords against their political opponents to cling onto power and profits at all costs.

    The ANC has not been as bad as most, but it still a long way from being a normal democratic party running a normal democratic country. In particular it has very much the one party state mentality, believing that there is no legitimate criticism from outside the party.

  • Greenflag

    African democracy too often has been a case of

    One man -One vote -One time .

    Ghana , Sierra Leone , Zambia , Zimbabwe , Tanzania , Mozambique , Congo Zaire are all examples of countries which had/have a one party State mentality .

    Northern Ireland also had a one party State mentality for most of it’s existence .

    The latter fortunately had a reasonably advanced economic structure on which to hang it’s skewed politics . The post colonial African States did not have that ‘luxury’. Tanzania for example had 4 university ‘graduates’ at independence .

    Europeans may look aghast at what new African ‘rulers ‘ get away with in terms of dealing with opponents /opposition parties and even the ordinary people .

    But the history of europe is even more replete with ‘dynastic ‘ struggles /wars /famines /tyrannies /mayhem etc etc . The Africans have yet to come up with mass murdering political philosophies such as Nazism or Communism although Mugabe in Zimbabwe is definitely a contender having destroyed the economy and forcing 4 million (30% of the population) to flee the country .

    Meanwhile the UN has voted for one of Mugabe’s Zimbabwean politicians to head their International Development Organisation ?

    Indeed 🙁

  • Yokel

    I like that idea of Craigavon being changed to Paisley-McGuinness.

    Lots of roundabouts to do u-turns on and no descernible centre.

    Very symbolic.

  • juan

    African tribes have had words for genocide long before white men showed up, and their condition was more wretched before the colonial whirlwind than it was during (tipu tep and king mwenga for example)
    the difference between the european wars of the 18th and 19th centuary is that they were denoted by functioning progressive ideas like Jacobinism rather than being motivated (purely) by superstition and tribalism, Europes advnce often came becuase of the Napolions and the Wilhems, as opposed to the Key figures in Africa bring only decline, suggesting that although the unviversal phenominon of war was present, it was to very different effect, we are on safer grounds with comparison to the 20th centurys ‘supermen’ but then their empires were brought down by their opposition, African states often bring themselves down, could hitler unopposed have built a functioning society on the foundations of National Socalism ? i doubt it, but there was at least a structure there, all be it a flawed one, and , after Marxism is critically and mathamticaly flawed, that did not stop the soviets becoming the 2nd biggest power in the world for a time,
    no, what we have in Africa today is exactly the same society we had 500 years ago, however, after imparting european technology and mechanised war, our positive virtues and the morals required to use technology well were not adopted, (remeber colonialism was sold to european people as the vechicle with which to so) and as such a large body of societies that work on different moral lines are experiencing problems as their natural enviroment and traditional societies demanded a level of hostility that does not comport itself well to european conncepts and even less so to eurpean technology, give a swiss canton guns and they use them to shoot wolves give a nomdic tribe whose main economic activities are slave raids and piliging ,and holds these as virtues, and you have exactly the sort of confussed mess we have in Africa tody, the awsome strength of western arms being concetrated in the hands of the authorities in the ‘pretending to be states’ African fifedoms is a very obvious reson why there is so much continual dysfunction.

    regretabely modern european dysfunction, its growing introverted submissivness, and its restrictions on the pillars of its success, free speech and free enquiry, means that these problems cannot even be openly discussed, never mind faced.

  • No one least of all my South African friends and in-laws condones the Arpatheid system

    Yup, but I bet they all still voted for the National Party back in the day…

    Let’s get a sense of perspective here. On the bad side: South Africa has big problems. Its ruling class is vindictive and increasingly corrput. Even policies which are genuinely aimed at improving the lot of the poor are often perceived by Whites as being motivated by anti-White racism. And some policies are motivated by anti-White racism. And a lot more by hunger for power and intolerance for opposition. Its crime rate is apalling.

    Now let’s look at the positives: The ANC repeatedly subjects itself to free elections. The judiciary often rule against the government, and the government respects those decisions. The press is robustly free. For the moment, there are still living apartheid-era heroes like Mandela and Tutu who publicly rebuke the power-hungry in the ANC. It has macroeconomic stability and consistent growth, enough to attract millions of immigrants from all over Africa, particuarly Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. Millions of rural poor people have received proper santitation, clean water and electricity in their homes since the transfer of power.

    Yes, South Africa has problems. But it doesn’t have problems of people having their land seized, being evicted and dumped on poor land in a ‘homeland’ 1000 miles away just because of the colour of their skin. The government is not locking up people just because of their political beliefs. Children aren’t being shot for protesting and elections aren’t restricted to people likely to be supporters of the government. Billions of pounds are not wasted being wasted creating non-jobs in state enterprises because having an unemployed Boer would threaten the ideological basis of the state. It used to have all these problems.

    There’s an unpleasant undercurrent to a lot of debates about South Africa that basically goes that the country is doomed to go the way that ‘all African countries’ do. Not all African countries are that way for starters and South Africa has enormous advantages compared with any other country south of the Sahara. And despite the problems the ANC undoubtedly has, they aren’t in the same order as those of the murderous régime that preceeded it and left most of the country in direst poverty.

  • overhere

    Agree with you there Juan, instead the guilt card is played to hand out money so the despots can go on living like kings while those who need the resourses the money could buy starve.

  • Aldamir

    “Yup, but I bet they all still voted for the National Party back in the day…”

    A large percentage of the English speaking white population voted for various anti-Apartheid liberals.

    The ANC has now absorbed the National Party and it is the liberals who are one of the main opposition voices that it wishes to silence.

  • IJP

    Aldamir

    Yes, I’m afraid SA is heading towards ruin too. Although I would accept Sammy‘s caveats, and point out that I don’t expect to see the day when SA is anything other than a country with a sustainable white population and a decent enough tourist trade.

    Benn

    A highly relevant point, and a prime reason that NI is not SA.

    Contrary to what the tribal parties suggest, there can be no “winners and losers” here.

    The very problem is that people present a “United Ireland” as the same thing as “victory for Nationalists”. The idea that it means removal of every aspect of Britishness from the island is one of the few things that unifies us! Until it is presented otherwise, it cannot happen.

    overhere

    That’s precisely the point of the article.

    Wisely, the ANC Government had avoided trivialities such as renaming places, in favour of trying to tackle the big issues (some, such as housing, with relative success; some, such as HIV/Aids and crime, with no success).

    The fact the ANC Government has failed so obviously on so many issues, and is now ignoring them in favour of dealing with trivialities, is still more troubling.

    Juan

    Sorry, but that’s a comment from someone who doesn’t know SA.

    For a start, Natal hardly has any Afrikaners living in it, it is the only province in SA where mother-tongue English speakers outnumber Afrikaans speakers (and then by about 7:1). So even assuming such a thing were desirable or feasible, why on earth would Natal be the “Afrikaner homeland”?!

    Sammy

    Yes, “I don’t condone Apartheid, but…” is a bit like “You know me, I’m not a racist but…” or, dare I say, “Some of my best friends are Catholic”.

  • overhere

    Sammy

    There’s an unpleasant undercurrent to a lot of debates about South Africa that basically goes that the country is doomed to go the way that ‘all African countries’ do. Not all African countries are that way for starters

    Sammy I am glad the above is correct but show mw a country south of the Sahara that is not either bankrupt, corrupt or murdering each other and there will be very few or non existant

  • A large percentage of the English speaking white population voted for various anti-Apartheid liberals.

    No, a small but significant percentage did. Helen Suzman was the only anti-apartheid MP from ’61 until ’74. Yes, her wealthy English-speaking white electors in Houghton Estate returned her every time, not least because many of them were Jewish refugees who had been the victims of the worst sort of racial hatred themselves. But there are plenty of other wealthy, white, English speaking parts of SA that were happily voting for the National Party well into the ’80s. Remember, it was wealthy white English-speakers who coined the nickname ‘Packing for Perth’ for the liberal PFP… and the whole thing collapsed in the ’80s anyway.

    The ANC has now absorbed the National Party

    Yes, in one of the more spectacular turnarounds of political history. One of my work colleagues at the time was from Cape Town and a member of the ANC and resigned his membership over the merger! Well, it just goes to show that some people know what side their bread is buttered on. And the ease with which the ANC has taken on board a large number of white and coloured activists is yet another reason why I can’t see SA doing a Zim.

    it is the liberals who are one of the main opposition voices that it wishes to silence.

    Oh sure, but you’re overegging the pudding a bit. I haven’t yet seen anything from the ANC that would have been out of place in the South Wales Labour Party or Fianna Fáil in their heydays. The DA do a good job on the corruption issue, but they’ll never break out of the teens until they manage to stop sounding like a bunch of white bad losers wishing for the bad old days. That’s a grossly unfair perception of most of the DA given the calibre of some of the people there, but they can come across that way to an unitiated European white liberal so I don’t doubt they come across that way to a lot of black South Africans.

    All the same, Helen Zille is really exciting and I hope and think she might have what it takes to turn the DA into a genuinely multi-racial liberal opposition to the ANC, and who knows, even into a government party.

  • Sammy I am glad the above is correct but show mw a country south of the Sahara that is not either bankrupt, corrupt or murdering each other

    Define corrupt – every country is corrupt to some degree and not every country in Africa is Nigeria. The island that produced Charlie Haughey and The Troubles ought to show a little more humility anyway.

    But how’s Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique, Ghana, Madagascar, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde and Tanzania for a start?

  • overhere

    Very Good Sammy, nice to be proved wrong for a change !!

  • overhere

    LOL
    Define corrupt – every country is corrupt to some degree and not every country in Africa is Nigeria. The island that produced Charlie Haughey and The Troubles ought to show a little more humility anyway

    What by doing the PC thing and saying “there there don’t worry have some more money” Heaven forfend I should critize anyone.

  • What by doing the PC thing and saying “there there don’t worry have some more money” Heaven forfend I should critize anyone.

    Who said that? You’re projecting. Aid isn’t the point. Good government and transparent, honest, courts are the point. Have those and any country in the world will suceed.

  • overhere

    show a little more humility
    so what was that about !!

  • dodrade

    So much for reconcilation. Mbeki is no Mandela and I fear the worst if Jacob Zuma succeeds him.

    There was no town called Tshwane before the Boers built Pretoria. Like in India names in existence and common knowledge for 350 years are thrown aside by parties playing the nationalist card.

    Funny how the PC media always talk about “Mumbai” but not “Roma”, “Timor Leste”, “Cote d’ivoire” or “Myanmar”.

    South Africa is still a one party state, only the party has changed. Indeed the ANC attempted to gerrymander Cape Town as its the only major city they don’t control.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/6102974.stm

    I only hope a strong opposition emerges at the next election or South Africa will surely decay away like the rest of the continent.

  • South Africa is still a one party state, only the party has changed.

    Horse shit. In actual fact it was never a one party state (the NP had opposition on both its liberal and fascist flanks) and an enormous amount has changed since then. Or I suppose shooting kids for protesting was no big deal, was it?

    Indeed the ANC attempted to gerrymander Cape Town as its the only major city they don’t control.

    Yes, and they ended up backing down when they realised the courts would overrule them. Politicians will always be stupid. The question is whether institutions and a proper separation of power prevent abuses. By and large they do in South Africa.

  • dodrade

    South Africa is still a one party state, only the party has changed.

    Horse shit. In actual fact it was never a one party state (the NP had opposition on both its liberal and fascist flanks) and an enormous amount has changed since then. Or I suppose shooting kids for protesting was no big deal, was it?

    The same party in power for 46 years, the largest opposition party banned and Helen Suzman the only effective opposition voice in parliament? That’s close enough to a one party state for me.

    As for your shooting kids line I am not trying to condone sharpville, apartheid or the national party, I am only pointing out that things haven’t changed as much as people would like to believe.

    As Pete Townshend put it “take a look at the new boss, same as the old boss.” Only the skin colour has changed.

    Indeed the ANC attempted to gerrymander Cape Town as its the only major city they don’t control.

    Yes, and they ended up backing down when they realised the courts would overrule them. Politicians will always be stupid. The question is whether institutions and a proper separation of power prevent abuses.By and large they do in South Africa.

    Yes they backed down this time, but power corrupts and the ANC have far too much to be healthy for South Africa. The legal machinery of apartheid blocked effective redress in the courts in the past and it would not be difficult to neuter the judiciary as Mugabe did in Zimbabwe, that other “success” story of overthrowing white minority rule. They already have enough seats to change the constitution if they wish.

  • As Pete Townshend put it “take a look at the new boss, same as the old boss.” Only the skin colour has changed.

    I never thought I’d see the day I was defending the ANC, at least not since apartheid fell, because I think they are indeed way too big for their boots, but please, please, please have a sense of perspective. If only the skin colour has changed then where are the Sharpevilles? Who are the Mandelas? Where are the forced deportations? Why aren’t whites and coloureds being coralled into an ‘independent homeland’ around Orania? And why are there prominent white ANC activists like Martinus van Schalkwijk?

    People have been expecting the ANC to go bad since the day and hour they took power. They haven’t, at least not in the gross sense. They are, by any reasonable measure, a vast improvement on the National Party administrations and the only people who claim otherwise are people who benefited greatly from the old administration and from apartheid, no matter how distasteful they might have found it all. The comparison with ZANU is fautuos, within a few years of taking power ZANU were massacring Ndebeles. Where is the South African analogue?

    There’s plenty to criticise the ANC about – the cronyism, the intolerance of internal dissent, the complete inability to get to grips with crime. But pretending that they are in any way comparable with the National Party is not only stupid and wrong but allows them to claim any criticism comes from whites with a secret hankering for the glory days of apartheid.

  • dodrade

    Fair enough South Africa is a success compared with other post colonial african states and at the moment a better place than under apartheid. But the ANC of tomorrow, if left unchecked, may well prove to have a moral calibre closer to Mugabe than Mandela. Without a strong opposition the rot will surely set in.

    Did you see the interview with Helen Zille on HARDtalk on news24? When the interviewer asked her if there was something rotten at the heart of the ANC she did not disagree. Even Desmond Tutu has warned of the direction the country is taking.