The name changes announced by minister of arts and culture and sport, Nathi Mthethwa, has dominated social media and the media at large. What this saga has exposed is how ignorant my fellow South Africans are about their own rich and multi-layered history and how little they know about the area they call home.
People have for far too long believed the nonsensical accounts they were fed by the apartheid and colonial historians at high school whose intentions had always been to cover up the atrocities and injustices visited upon the indigenous peoples of this great country. Many people have lost perspective when it comes to names. On one hand some believe names mean nothing and they are not a priority in a country that has such high levels of unemployment and poverty. Some argue that the money used to change names could be better used by feeding the hungry and helping the destitute. If names were not important why do 99% of all Black Africans who themselves were given ‘Christian or English’ names at birth make it a point today never to do the same to their own children?
It is because they understand the importance of name on one’s self and pride. Where were these people when the South African flag was changed after the 1994 elections? Were there no poor people then? Where were these people when Jan Smuts Airport was renamed OR Tambo Airport – were there no poor people then? The very same people who now talk of Limpopo, Gauteng, Polokwane and so forth without blinking an eye or thinking twice about it are now frothing at the mouth because Port Elizabeth is now given an African name that represents the people and the language that is original in that area. Some like DA mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay, Nqaba Banga, believe that, “While not disputing the need for geographical names that portray an inclusive country, I believe that these names have no relation to and/or connection to the people of our metro.”
He went on to say many other things about how the name itself has no meaning and so on and so on. As I listened to him on radio I cringed at the nonsense he was spewing with such breathtaking confidence. I waited for at least one of the radio presenters who conducted his interview to ask him in isiXhosa: “ he mfondini uyaziva uthini kanye kanye”? Loosely translated to (Do you realise that you are speaking nonsense?) For whose benefit are they objecting to the names? What exactly is their objection about the names? Who was Elizabeth Donkin and why would a whole city be named after her? Let me be blunt – we do not have time to nurse the feelings of people who are opposing things for the sake of it. We do not have time to satisfy a few who feel they may be living in a city whose name may not represent them (whatever that means).
We are in a nation-building project that seeks to transform this African country to represent its people and not be an outpost and a vestige of a shameful colonial history. Nqaba Banga and Charles Nqakula of the ANC regional task team must fall in line – we have no time to nurse their bruised egos. Just because 19000 or 260000 or whatever thousands signed a petition doesn’t mean they HAVE to be listened to at the expense of everybody else. That is not how democracy works. Just because you collect a few signatures doesn’t mean you hold a veto right. If they feel that the process was not done by the book they must feel free to approach the courts – in the meantime Gqeberha it is, Kariega, Qonce, Gompo, Nqanqarhu it is.