/ 21 October 2009

Outcry over ‘unilateral’ name changes

Arts and Culture minister Lulu Xingwana’s announcement in the Government Gazette that she had approved the changing of 42 place names caused an outcry from opposition parties and organisations on Wednesday.

Xingwana’s announcement that 28 names in Mpumalanga, one in Gauteng, five in the North West and 11 in KwaZulu-Natal would change, was published in the Government Gazette on Friday.

Thirty-seven of these were approved on July 28 and five changes were approved on September 18.

While the Democratic Alliance (DA) said it would submit questions to Xingwana, demanding an explanation on the approval, the Afrikanerbond sent a letter to President Jacob Zuma asking him to intervene. The Freedom Front Plus (FF+) also said it would send a letter to Zuma.

The DA was concerned about the process followed to approve the names.

”According to reports, the public had until October 16 to submit comments or objections relating to the proposed name changes. Sadly, this date was not widely publicised and few persons knew that the deadline for submissions had been set,” spokesperson Anthony Benadie said.

Benadie said no decision had been taken by the Mbombela Town Council to change the name of Nelspruit to Mbombela.

”DA councillor Gerhard De Bruin has confirmed that not even the local name changing committee has approved such a change, let alone the full council.”

He said the local name changing committee agreed not to consider changing the name of Nelspruit until after the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

Benadie said the African National Congress (ANC) and government were acting in bad faith by changing names without thorough buy-in from communities.

”Considering the political chaos in Mpumalanga, the ANC has again used name changing as a smoke-screen in an attempt to steer public attention away from their internal political warfare and poor service delivery record,” said Benadie.

In the Afrikanerbond’s letter to Zuma, it quoted the president himself from his State of the Nation speech on June 3: ”We will ensure a common national approach to the changing of geographic and place names.

”This must provide an opportunity to involve all South Africans in forging an inclusive national identity, to deepen our understanding of our history and heritage.”

The Afrikanerbond said the changes were made without any consultation.

It also said Zuma and Mathews Phosa had promised Afrikaner organisations in a meeting that the issue of name changes would be handled with ”great circumspection and with consultation”.

Professor Piérre Theron, chairperson of the Afrikanerbond, said the approval of the changes were done unilaterally. The organisation also said there were several problems with the changes.

”There can be no doubt that names that are offensive or hurtful need to be changed. We could, however and to our opinion, find no name on the list which could be regarded as offensive or hurtful,” the letter said.

It also said that there were 45 names on the list, while Xingwana said she had only approved 42.

While the name of Steynsdorp near Badplaas has been changed to correct an apparent spelling error, the new name is eMlondozi. The organisation asked how this could be correct.

”Of more concern to us is that 19 of the names have an Afrikaans/Dutch origin. Thirteen names are Afrikaans in origin and six names have a Dutch connotation,” said Theron.

”Only two of the names have an English connotation. You will therefore understand that we are deeply concerned about the tendency to marginalise Afrikaans and in fact to literally erase names with an Afrikaans origin.”

The Afrikanerbond also queried the motive of changing the name of Nelspruit to Mbombela.

”This municipality [Mbombela] already includes Nelspruit, White River and Hazyview. This will cause endless confusion.”

The organisation also asked whether the name changes can be a priority in a province like Mpumalanga, which faces serious financial and service delivery problems.

In their reaction to the name changes, the FF+ said the approval of the name changes was an opportunistic decision by the minister.

”The unilateral actions of minister Xingwana is in direct contrast with president Zuma’s viewpoint and does not allow any room for the involvement of the relevant communities which will be affected by these changes”, said FF+ leader Pieter Mulder.

The party called on the minister to withdraw the announcement in the Government Gazette.

”The party will be taking up this issue with the highest authority in the ANC government as the actions of the minister appear to be in direct contrast with the president’s promise,” Mulder said. — Sapa