Afrikaans place names lose out

2010-10-13 09:42
Cape Town - More than a third of the 328 name changes made between 2000 and the start of 2010 have involved replacing Afrikaans names.

Meanwhile, only 28 (or 3%) of the 849 names that were give to new residential areas, suburbs, national key points or geographic places over the past 14 years, have been Afrikaans.

But Phakamani Mthembu, a director of the Department of Arts and Culture, said it was a misconception that Afrikaans names were disappearing.

"Afrikaans is actually benefiting a lot. Think about a name like Diepsloot (a settlement north of Johannesburg) for an area where no white people are living," he told the parliamentary portfolio committee.

The biggest winner was English.

"Very few new suburbs or property developments get ethnic names. Most are given pretty English names like 'Sea View'," he said.

New place names

According to statistics given to committee members, most of the new place names that had been approved since 1996 by the department are in Sotho (195), Xhosa (128), Tswana (118), Venda (88) and English (62). Lowest on the list were names in Afrikaans (28), Tsonga (23) and Ndebele (7).

Meanwhile, a document on the department's website showed that at least 118 Afrikaans names for geographic places like mountains, rivers and streams, as well as for provincial buildings, settlements, hospitals and stations had been changed over the past ten years.

Most of the name changes were for places in Mpumalanga (at least 66) and in Limpopo (33).

A survey of the changes showed that the place names seldom had historic links to political leaders and events, and were mostly descriptive Afrikaans words like Wolwekraal (wolf kraal) and Treurrivier (river of mourning).

The list on the website didn’t include changes to names under municipal control - like streets, buildings, parks and cemeteries. It also didn't contain information about name changes that had been approved over the past eight months.


Mthembu said name changes were necessary to "decolonise" the landscape of heritage.

Colonial place names had to be changed to names which represented "a post-colonial, post-apartheid and democratic South Africa".

At the same time, transformation had to be managed in such a way that it promoted nation building and didn't sow division.

He admitted that name changes led to "conflict and arguments".

"Some feel their heritage is being marginalised." On this point, Mthembu singled out AfriForum as a pressure group which "feels that Afrikaans is being undermined and that discrimination in reverse is taking place".

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