What’s in a name?

2012-03-12 12:18

I am a South African working in Hong Kong, but still constantly travel back to South Africa.

I want to comment on the issue of name changes (of streets, cities, airports etc.) happening in South Africa, which are still being debated 18 years after a democratically-elected government came into power.
In fact, I want to refer to the experience in Hong Kong. Hong Kong was handed over to Chinese control in 1997 by the colonial power, Britain.

While some citizens were apprehensive, the majority of citizens accepted this as a fact and even welcomed the change as it shed the yolk of colonialism and humiliation of inferiority and ushered in a new era.

At that point in time many names in Hong Kong were still British – building names, street names, the names of sports clubs, everything.

You would have thought – as is happening in South Africa – the Chinese would have relished the opportunity to change most of the British names; after all, the victors should eliminate vestiges of the oppressed past, not so?

But all the names are still in place: Victoria Harbour, Connaught Road, Queen’s Road ... Names weren’t changed due to the change in power (except that the word “royal” got dropped because there is no longer a link from say the jockey club back to the Crown).

Hong Kongers feel proud of their history, even though there were some hurtful times in the past.
The government here (and the people support this fully) believes that there are other far more important issues to tackle. I believe it is the sign of a mature society, not of one having to keep proving and reinventing itself.

Surely South Africans should be able to adopt a similar attitude?

We should remember, however, that this waste of effort and resources is not limited to our present authorities – the old apartheid government was similarly obsessed with the same thing.

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