Khaya Dlanga: Change town names that celebrate our oppressors

It’s hard not to look around and think that it is black people who are apologising for the end of apartheid.

We learn English and, generally, white people don’t make an effort to learn indigenous South African languages. Then, in the process, we kill our own languages. The excuse for learning English is that it is the international language of commerce. That may be the case, but China, Russia, South Korea and Japan, to name a few countries, are economic powers in their own right that are doing pretty well and are not apologetic about using their own languages.

We know that black people still own less than 10% of the JSE. This, too, is a well-known fact. The skills level of black people compared with that of white people has improved, but only by a tiny margin since 1994. This clearly says that it is black people who are apologising for the end of apartheid.

In May 2005, former president Thabo Mbeki spoke out against Grahamstown. Not that he had anything against the city. It was the fact that the city, known as Rhini in Xhosa, is still called Grahamstown. Next year, it’s going to be 10 years since he complained about the roots of its shameful name and yet we will still be talking about the Grahamstown Arts Festival.

How long will it take before we abolish this name? I am not advocating that we abolish all Western names in South Africa, but we must abolish those names that honour those who brutalised our people.


Steeped in (brutal) history
Places such as Grahamstown had names before, yet, strangely, people who complain and say that we are abolishing history by changing the names of these places have nothing to say about the history that was abolished before by the colonialists and, later, the apartheid apparatchiks of the National Party.

I am against celebrating those who butchered our people.

Grahamstown was named after a particularly brutal British commander, Lieutenant Colonel Graham. As Mbeki said: “What was particular about Colonel Graham was that he was the most brutal and most vicious of the British commanders on that frontier.

“He introduced, in the course of those wars, the practice of a scorched earth policy.

“He didn’t fight only the soldiers on the other side, but burnt their fields and killed their cattle, and starved them into submission.”

While we’re at it, another name that needs to be changed is that of Cradock. The town was named after the governor of the Cape, Sir John Cradock, who ruled the area between 1811 and 1813.

It was Cradock who sent Colonel Graham to Rhini to end the skirmish with the Xhosa, who had made it difficult for the farmers and British to cheat them of their land.

On January 1 1812, Graham declared: “My intention is now to attack the savages in a way which I confidently hope will leave a lasting impression on their memories and show them our vast superiority in all situations. I have ordered 500 men to enter the wood on foot … with orders to stay there so long as a kaffir remains alive … “

The villages of the Xhosa were destroyed, their vegetable ­gardens were trashed, and corn and other crops were ­burnt or confiscated. Graham’s assistant wrote that Xhosa men and women were shot indiscriminately, whether or not they offered resistance.

Governor Cradock was so pleased with the results of the campaign that on August 14 1812, he made sure that Graham’s name would never be forgotten. Thus a proclamation was made by the then-colonial secretary of the Cape: “[…] shall in the future be called … by the name of Graham’s Town … in respect for the services of Lieutenant Colonel Graham, through whose spirited exertions the kaffir hordes have been driven from that valuable district.”

Change is a must
Knowing what we know about the history of the town, how can we still proudly call it Grahamstown? And why do we still have the name Cradock? We need to respect ourselves a bit more. We can’t be the one’s apologising for our own oppression.

The worst argument I hear when it comes to name changes is about the money wasted on the process.

People often say the money could be used for the poor. But most of the time, these people don’t care about the poor – they just use them as a convenient excuse not to make the changes that are needed. The budget for name changes is not taken from social welfare, it’s a budget specifically allocated for this task.

You can’t put a price on restoring a people’s dignity. None. We need to reclaim our self-esteem and self-worth, and we must stop being apologetic about it.

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