Pretoria starts street renaming process

2012-05-23 09:12

Pretoria - The city of Pretoria has begun renaming streets to honour heroes of the anti-apartheid struggle, leaving some whites worried about losing their cultural identity in the South African capital.

Eighteen years after the African National Congress was elected to power, the city's streets still bear the names of leading figures from South Africa's white-dominated past, making it impossible to cross Pretoria without passing a mention of the fathers of apartheid.

For Mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa, the changes are about striking a balance between the memory of the country's former masters and their successors.

Although Pretoria's population has become more diverse in recent years, the capital retains a strong presence of Afrikaners.

Afrikaner past

Afrikaners were closely identified with apartheid, which ended when Nelson Mandela became the first black president in 1994.

"Afrikaners are not hated or the object of contempt but it is a fact that all the streets in the city are named after Afrikaners," Ramokgopa said.

"It will never be argued that Afrikaners did not play a role, but the city must represent everyone's past."

Delayed by a series of court cases, city workers have now begun changing signs for about 30 streets, mainly downtown. The old names are still there, but struck out by a red line, hanging alongside the new.

Emerging unscathed from the changes is Paul Kruger, the Afrikaner leader of the 19th-century Transvaal Republic, and the city's namesake Andries Pretorius, who defeated the Zulu army in a bloody 1838 battle.

But many whites who played a role in South Africa's history are being replaced by figures from the anti-apartheid struggle.

Voortrekkers

The Voortrekkers, Afrikaners who fled British expansion in the 19th century to colonise the country's north, have been replaced by Steve Biko, the black consciousness leader killed by white police in 1977.

"It doesn't matter what the street names are. It just makes it more difficult for people to find where we are," said Irene Rynders, who runs an antique shop along the road formerly known as Voortrekkers.

"But... what's wrong with the Voortrekkers? They came here through the mountains. Why change?" she said, fretting about the fallout for GPS devices and outdated maps.

"It costs a lot of money. They could use the money for people who haven't food, or whatever."

It's a lost cause to remind her that the Voortrekkers migrated north because the British had outlawed slavery.

Conrad Beyers, a local councillor with the Freedom Front Plus party, said "It is a big mistake to change historically sensitive names."

"There are enough neutral street names and new street names after which the ANC could name their heroes."

Don’t be divisive - Tutu

In some cases, the city has listened. The Zambezi River has lost its street, as has a church that was demolished long ago.

Church Street, the longest in the city, now bears four different names along different stretches.

The Afrikaner opposition fears more changes are still to come, on streets that still bear the names of apartheid leaders like John Vorster, a former head of state.

It's also opposed to renaming Pretoria as Tshwane, a switch mulled by the ANC since 2005.

Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize winner regarded as the voice of South Africa's conscience, said the government should be "magnanimous" in how it handles the renamings.

"Don't let it be a divisive exercise," he said. "Let's not rub people's noses in the dust, don't fill people with resentment."

"History is a strange thing. Today's leaders can be tomorrow's vanquished."

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