What’s in a name? The FW de Klerk road debate so far

2015-01-18 06:00

A war of words is raging around the City of Cape Town’s decision in principle to rename part of the N1 highway after former president FW de Klerk.

The city’s naming committee announced this week that it had accepted a proposal from a group of 27 people suggesting that Table Bay Boulevard should be renamed for De Klerk, the joint 1993 Nobel peace prize winner with Nelson Mandela.

In a statement, the chairperson of the naming committee, councillor Brett Herron, said the 27 signatories “inclusive of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and (Western Cape Premier Helen) Zille, motivated that it is opportune for the City to recognise the pivotal role played by De Klerk in the transition to a new dispensation in South Africa”.

Zille, though, said she wasn’t actually one of the people who signed the initial petition suggesting the name change.

She was among several people consulted for her views on the proposal, Zille said.

Zille, who is also the DA’s leader, said that Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille had asked for her views after being in discussion on the issue with “various individuals” for several months.

“I was unaware of these discussions, at the time, as the premier has nothing to do with street renaming, which belongs in the domain of local government,” Zille said.

Zille said she replied by saying that she thought it was appropriate for a street to be named after De Klerk, because South Africa would not have peacefully negotiated transition to democracy if he had not been prepared to relinquish power when he did.

She cited his February 2 speech in 1990, in which he unbanned all organisations without preconditions, as a dramatic turning point in South African history.

“It took great political courage, in that context and at that time, given his political constituency, to do that,” said Zille.

She said that Mandela had been recognised worldwide for his primary role in South Africa’s transition to democracy, and rightly so, but that it could not have happened without De Klerk’s contribution – his recognition that apartheid had to be abandoned completely and his leadership in ensuring this happened.

Zille said there were very few examples anywhere in the world where leaders had been prepared to negotiate themselves, and their support base, out of power, and that deserved appropriate recognition.

“I do not agree that FW de Klerk had ‘no option’ but to surrender when he did. The apartheid military machine could have continued for decades, and destroyed the country in the process.

“Instead, political sense prevailed, and it was delivered to democracy with a strong platform on which to build an inclusive society. Things could have been very different.”

She says she discussed the issue with De Lille and they agreed that De Klerk’s name should be submitted to the process for a decision.

Tutu was not available for comment – he is in India visiting the Dalai Lama.

The other names on the list of 27 include the director of the Afrikanerbond Jan Bosman, Naspers nonexecutive director Ton Vosloo, former administrator of the then-Cape province Kobus Meiring, historian Hermann Giliomee and a number of journalists, housewives and businesspeople.

The recommendation is expected to be officially adopted by a meeting of the city council on January 28.

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