Gauteng debates name changes

2010-03-24 13:30

Johannesburg - Gauteng's arts and culture MEC warned participants in public hearings on name changes to brace themselves for lively debate, as consultations on the emotional issue were set to begin on Wednesday.

"I am sure that the process that we are embarking on today will be characterised by lively debates and I know that we might not agree on everything, however we need to make sure that at every phase of these public hearings all South Africans feel that their views and opinions have been heard," she said.

MEC Nelisiwe Moerane explained the significance of standardising names and restoring many place names to their original spelling.

She said some people said changing names was whimsical and wasteful, but explained that standardisation had many practical benefits.

Historical and cultural heritage

She said it would also go towards righting the actions of early settlers and colonial powers who ignored historical and cultural heritage when changing a place name.

The hearings follow an instruction from Cabinet that the Department of Arts and Culture, through the SA Geographical Names Council, consult the public on name changes.

The matter is also covered in the United Nations Guidelines on the Standardisation of Geographical Names and forms part of a UN resolution.

The resolution includes the avoidance of more than one name for one feature, the elimination of objectionable names and the avoidance of repetition of names.

"Apart from the fact that place names identify and reflect culture, heritage and languages, the correct use of place names has practical benefits to local, national and international communities in areas of trade and commerce, population censuses and national statistics.

"Urban and regional planning, search and rescue missions, map and atlas production, automatic aviation and navigation and communications, including postal and news services."

It would be difficult to distribute food for example in a war torn country, or during a natural disaster if a town is known by different names.


"The consistent use of place names can make a difference. Imagine the size of a map with all the following names put in it, Cape Town, Kaapstad, Ekapa."

Older names were "lost in the mists of time" and this part of Africa was "littered" with name changes that reflect its turbulent past.

Names that survived were distorted or bastardised to conform with the phonological and morphological structure of Dutch, English and later Afrikaans.

Some examples include Kyalami instead of Khayalami in Midrand and Kuruman instead of Nkulumane in the Northern Cape.

This resulted in the eradication of the history and heritage of indigenous communities.

The consultations would take place in the Birchwood Hotel in Kempton Park from noon on Wednesday, for just the one day.