Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The arguments are where, exactly?

While issues over name changes in South Africa frequently get framed as a racial thing, this article and this article, both in the Mail and Guardian, suggest that the situation is not always so black and white.

The Supreme Court of Appeal has decided that insufficient consultation occurred before the town Louis Trichard was renamed Makhado, and have ruled that the change is to be reversed. This iAfrica article reflects on the potential impact of this decision on debates about other name changes around the country, and mentions, right at the bottom of the article, that the costs of the court case will be paid by the Name Change Council and Palo Jordan. No one, however, mentions the cost of the initial change, or the costs involved in this new development. According to the article, Pallo Jordan's spokesperson said that name changes "must reflect the needs of the people". Is it even necessary for me to point out that a country dealing with poverty, unemployment and AIDS to the extent that South Africa is, seems to have particularly pressing financial needs that are not addressed when these name changes take place?
As I tend to be on so many things associated with South African politics, I am ambiguous about the issue of name changes. On the one hand, it is not fun to have to explain to people why there is a statue to the man known as the "author of apartheid" overlooking a town in the Karoo. And having to explain place names commemorating people like that would be equally difficult. On the other hand, not all of the names being changed reference apartheid. In fact, more of them reference pre-apartheid history, and in particular, the history of South Africa's disengagement from British imperialism. I think it is important for people to know that not all Afrikaans culture is about apartheid, and commemorating other aspects of Afrikaans history is one way of doing that. On the other hand, I recognize the need to commemorate the anti-apartheid struggle history. So is the way to do that by over-writing other histories? The current practice is making people angry and resentful. I have spent a huge amount of time justifying arts and culture spending in relation to their function in the construction of a governable society, and so I get why it is important to spend money on things like this. But the efforts have got to be more productively directed than they at present are.

So my suggestion: lets number streets and towns (that is the way the post office works, after all), and spend that money on choirs where people can sing together, schools and community centers where they can learn about one another, journals, radio and television programs where they can talk about things together, and the police force, so that they can make use of all of the above without fearing for their lives. Just a suggestion

UPDATE 2: All subsequent name-changes in Johannesburg will reference South African fauna and flora, rather than people. Someone finally got it right! Well done. We are back on track.

Links to relevant articles:
Mail and Guardian: Planned worker's day march to protest the Durban name changes. The highway in Durban is blocked by protesters ahead of the march. The worker's day march turns violent, and a more light-hearted take on the consequences of the name change issue. Name change signs in Potchefstroom are being removed and defaced, an article which is also relevant to my post on De La Rey. Pretoria is to be changed to Tshwane, a process that has been incrementally ongoing for ages! A process of public consultation on the issue of name-changes has been initiated.

News 24: Louis Trichard to Makhado, who will pay for the blunder?, the PAC criticizes the reversal, The name change reversal should not effect other name changes, Name change process started up again, the ANC will protect Afrikaans,

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