Street names should recognise all heroes, Concourt hears
The names of streets should reflect heroes across the South African cultural divide, the Constitutional Court heard on Thursday.
The City of Tshwane is applying to the court for leave to appeal against an order by the full bench of the High Court in Pretoria, which interdicted it from renaming certain streets and which ordered it to reinstate old street names below the new names.
The interdict, which was sought by AfriForum, is pending a review of the City’s decision to change the names.
At the heart of the matter on Thursday was a debate on the harm that the new or old names would cause to people.
Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke questioned Terry Motau, for the City, on the potential harm.
“What harm would there be to look at a street name, and it says Nelson Mandela, or if it says Kerk Street until a [review] court decides the matter? One has to say, there is harm if I look at what I don’t like,” Moseneke said.
“From 1994 to 2012 there were other [street] names. What was the harm there? Now there is a decision to change the names, and you have new names on the street. What harm is there [with those new names]? I need to be persuaded on either set of names.”
Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng questioned what would happen if there was a street named after Steve Biko, and a decision was made to remove it.
“People would be upset, they would say, ‘You dare not’. They are saying this is our history,” Mogoeng said.
“There are many black people who feel strongly about the views Dr Hendrik Verwoerd had against them, and knowing what he stood for and knowing the consequences of his policy - do they suffer irreparable harm by seeing his name [on a street]?”
Motau said that if someone was offended by a name, they were entitled to participate in the name-change process, or could submit a complaint over the name.
“Policy allows any person to make an application to change a street name – if one takes offence – they can make an application to the City,” he said.
Sense of belonging
“The name of Paul Kruger [street] remained in Pretoria and was not touched. It is part of the process to recognise heroes across the cultural divide, if culture is going to be used [as an argument].”
He said it was not a complete overhaul of all the street names in Pretoria, adding that no particular sector of the community was entitled to have streets with particular names that they prefer.
Dolf Raath, for AfriForum, also faced questions by the justices over the harm that could be caused if the old street names were not put up along with the new ones, until the review of the City’s decision.
“The new names are there. Just retain the old names so that the sense of belonging [is there],” Raath said.
Mogoeng questioned: “And others? Or don’t they have a sense of belonging?”
Raath responded: “We just want to keep the old names with the new names.”
He also said some businesses would be harmed by having to replace their office stationery.
Mogoeng eventually asked Raath to make a succinct argument in a few sentences over what the harm might be should the old names go.
“The harm associated with the delays inherent to legal proceedings is a gradual loss of sense of place and loss of sense of belonging and association with the direct environment (the living space) which is known to be of emotional value to people.”
Mogoeng also mentioned that if one went to any town or city in South Africa, most people did not have any connection to some of the names there.
“Some of… [those names] are linked to their previous state of oppression. What if they say, ‘Remove these names they remind us of our suffering?’”
Raath said both sides in the debate had an emotional connection to names.
The Constitutional Court reserved judgment on the matter.
In March 2012, the City decided to rename streets in Pretoria, following a public participation process in several wards.
Following this, AfriForum approached the High Court for a restraining order against the City. The court ordered the City to keep the old street names below the new ones for a period of six months. In that time, AfriForum was supposed to file an application to review the City’s decision to rename the streets.
That six-month period elapsed, and AfriForum eventually filed its review application in December 2012. That application is still pending in the High Court.
In April 2013, Tshwane Mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa announced that the old street names would be removed.
This led to AfriForum applying to the High Court for an interim interdict against the City, pending the finalisation of the review process.
The High Court granted the order against the City, preventing it from removing the old street names and directing it to put back those it had removed, pending the review.
The City appealed this to a full bench of the High Court, who found in favour of AfriForum, saying the order was correct because the relief the group sought, for an interdict until the finalisation of the review process, did not interfere with the resolution to introduce new street names.
It was then in August last year that the Supreme Court of Appeal dismissed the City’s application for special leave to appeal the full bench of the High Court’s ruling. – News24