Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Editorial: Are South Africa’s new names more than a mouthful?

The new name for Port Elizabeth is now Gqeberha. Say it like this: “click-e-b-e-ghaa”. If you have a doctor’s certificate excusing you from the click, an easier pronunciation might be, “K-e-b-e-g-a”, conveniently similar to the city’s long-established suburb, Kabega Park. Which is no coincidence: Gqeberha is the isiXhosa name for the Baakens River that runs through the city, and is also the name for the city’s Walmer Township. 

Residents are already accustomed to referring to their city as iBhayi or PE or eMambozana. Yet, despite not being a new name, per se, Gqeberha is proving to be tongue-twister for some, and a name with very little resonance for others. 

The change of the “Friendly City” name was approved on Tuesday, when it was gazetted by Sports, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa, along with a new name for the city’s airport: Chief Dawid Stuurman International Airport. 

Many others, however, have been vocal about how little they approve, or bemoaned a supposed lack of consultation.

Boy Lamani from kwaMagxaki was one of the people who made the original submission for the name Gqeberha. Whatever you think of his choice, there was in fact a consultation process, which Lamani participated in and which very few of those who are now seemingly distraught bothered to do. Nevertheless, people are taken aback. Even angry. 

One Twitter user said: “Tannie, why are you upset about the click? It’s the same sound you make before you chase your husband out of the kitchen. It’ll be okay.”

Other Twitter users said they do not have any desire to learn to pronounce the new name properly. “I’ll stick to PE,” some muttered darkly into the ether.

Such intractability recalls the response to any number of renaming exercises since 1994. Who could forget the boisterous debate when Pretoria was changed to Tshwane, never mind all the street name changes? Plenty of us, it turns out: outrage tends to fade into familiarity over time.

But until then, let the current brouhaha remind us that, as citizens we must take part in these consultations and processes before they’re finalised. And that means paying attention and engaging in our communities instead of sealing ourselves off in self-imposed societal quarantine. 

Those who complained they had no idea about Gqeberha’s consultation process should reflect on why that was. However much our political parties may want us to look away, democracy demands our active participation. This country belongs to all of us. 

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Related stories


If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Subscribers only

Fears of violence persist a year after the murder of...

The court battle to stop coal mining in rural KwaZulu-Natal has heightened the sense of danger among environmental activists

Data shows EFF has lower negative sentiment online among voters...

The EFF has a stronger online presence than the ANC and Democratic Alliance

More top stories

Constitutional court confirms warrantless searches in cordoned off areas unconstitutional

The law was challenged in response to raids in inner Johannesburg seemingly targeting illegal immigrants and the highest court has pronounced itself 10 days before an election in which then mayor Herman Mashaba has campaigned on an anti-foreigner ticket

A blunt Mantashe makes no promises during election campaigning

ANC chairperson Gwede Mantashe told people in Daveyton to stop expecting handouts from the government

Mbeki: Social compact the answer to promises made in ANC...

Former president Thabo Mbeki urged business and government and society to work together to tackle issues such as poverty, unemployment and poor services and infrastructure

South Africa needs to make pension system more inclusive, study...

South Africa’s pension system is ranked 31st out of 43 countries, receiving a C-grade which indicates major risks and shortcomings that should be addressed

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…