‘Name changes are part of transformation’
By Khuthala Nandipha
“When you land at the East London Airport, you drive through Settlers’ Way into Fleet Street or via Oxford through Vincent and Cambridge towards Berlin, past Ginsberg and you arrive in King Williams Town. Is this Europe or the Eastern Cape? None of these names has relevance to the people and heritage of this province,” says Zukile Jodwana, Deputy Chairperson of the Eastern Cape Provincial Geographic Name Change Council.
On Tuesday, the Council will hold a public meeting in East London to consult on the possible new name for the city, the airport and other geographic features of the town. This is part of a province-wide process spearheaded by the Department of Arts, Sports and Culture with a current budget of R800 000.
“This is simply not enough for the standardisation and re-dress of a colonial strategy that sought to wipe out the heritage of the native people of this province. We are changing names of towns, cities, airports, mountains, parks, rivers, valleys and hills. This includes correcting names that were corrupted and spelt incorrectly,” detailed Jodwana.
The project is informed by international standards of the United Nations that has a group of experts with guidelines and recommendations to focus on the broader context of the transformation agenda of the South African government.
Last week, public engagement was held in King Williams Town attended by stakeholders such as business, civil society and government representations. The Department cannot have a say on the new names. After applications have been submitted, research is done and all the checks and balances such as duplication, exclusion, spelling, historical facts, meaning and other factors are checked.
The names are submitted to the Minister for approval. Members of the public have an opportunity to object at any given stage of this process.
“The process thus far has been interesting and people are willing to ensure that this is inclusive. We have suggestions for Khoi languages to be included for places such as Uitenhage and Port Elizabeth so that generations to come can know who the original people of this province were,” he said.
Speaking on the budget, Jodwana feels that transformation has a lot of cost implications as it is about re-dressing the past, people lost their blood, identity and heritage. He insists that the government must be prepared to spend as the benefits outweigh the costs. The cost, however, falls on various departments that have to implement the redress, such as the Department of Roads that has to change signage.
The burning question; is this is a priority project considering the current drought crises?
For Jodwana, this is an unfair comparison as the drought is a climate-based crisis that will not necessarily be solved by money. “And, there is no guarantee that if we do not ask treasury for this money it will be used for drought relief. We need rain and we need people to spend water wisely. If we do not get these projects done because we feel something else is always more important, we will have a backlog. Countries such as Ghana did this in two years, it has taken us 25 years,” lamented Jodwana.