Where the hell am I?

2014-03-09 14:00

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Navigating the New South Africa can be confusing. The renaming of street names and the dismantling of ­landmarks have affected our burgeoning democratic identity?–?not to mention our sense of direction, says Daniel Mothowagae.

My mother-in-law still calls Joburg’s international airport Jan Smuts Airport?–?not OR Tambo International, as the airport is now known.

“We’ve come a long way in the history of our country and it only makes sense to ­people of my generation when I say Jan Smuts Airport,” says Mama Maki, who lives in Naledi, Soweto.

“Almost everything has been renamed in our country, so much so that we are getting more confused by the day.”

She has a valid argument, considering that the airport in Kempton Park has been renamed twice?–?to Johannesburg International in 1994 and to OR Tambo in October 2006.

More than 849 names of residential areas, suburbs and geographical places were changed in South Africa between 1996 and 2010, according to a report released by the SA Geographical Names Council and the department of arts and culture in 2010.

Pretoria and Durban are the cities with the most name changes?–?with 60 new street names between them.

Name-change naysayers in 2005 protest after an official decision to change the capital’s name from Pretoria to Tshwane. Almost a decade later, there is no clear winner. Picture: Rerato Maduna/Reuters

A friend from Ga-Rankuwa, 37km north of Pretoria (sometimes known these days as Tshwane), once scheduled a meeting with me along Van Der Walt Street in the Pretoria CBD, but my GPS ignored his directions.

As I approached what I remembered to be Van Der Walt Street, my navigator signalled: “Turn left into Lilian Ngoyi Street.”

I wasn’t the only one confused.

The locals are still trying to sort out what to call the Jacaranda City. Is it Pretoria, or is it Tshwane, the name of the metro?

What about Krugersdorp (Mogale City Metro) and ­Nelspruit (Mbombela)?

The Mzansi map was redrawn when the 10 bantustans were abolished at the dawn of a post-apartheid South Africa and replaced by nine new provinces.

Roads, streets, buildings and towns were renamed.

It seemed a good idea to discard incorrectly spelt or offensive names like those named after apartheid leaders.

But the renaming of some of our streets and the dismantling of landmarks have affected our burgeoning democratic identity?–?not to mention our sense of direction.

Has anyone been to eMalahleni?

That’s Witbank, renamed for its coal-rich tradition.

Locals, like soccer development coach Mabu Kunene (37), have yet to internalise the new name.

Kunene says he has embraced the changes to offensive names such as Kafferskraal (now Ezimbuthumeni), Boesmanspruit (Waterval), Kafferskraalkop (Endlulamithini) and Boesmanskraal (Empangeleni), all villages near his home town – which he still refers to as Witbank.

Since this photograph was taken 20 years ago, Kafferskraal has?–?uncontroversially?–?been renamed Ezimbuthumeni. It is near Witbank (now eMalahleni) in Mpumalanga (the former Eastern Transvaal). Picture: Graeme Williams/South Photograph

Durban underwent 32 street-name changes in 2011, ­renaming them after liberation heroes.

The council said the project was aimed at correcting historical injustices and was seen as a nation-building exercise to bring about social ­cohesion. It didn’t.

Tshwane/Pretoria altered 28 street names –?from Andries Street (now Thabo Sehume) to Zambezi (Sefako Makgatho these days). And the Pretoria/Tshwane name change stalemate has not done much for social cohesion either.

Civil rights group AfriForum announced its intention to oppose the name change in court after the ANC said early in the new year that Pretoria?–?the city?–?would change its name to Tshwane, the Setswana name for the Apies River that flows through the city.

I have crisscrossed all nine provinces since the new ­demarcations, and most locals I’ve spoken to say that ­changing names is a futile attempt to change or erase history and is a money-wasting exercise.

Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe does not agree.

He wrote in a November 2008 edition of ANC Today: “Since the arrival of white settlers in the land now known as South Africa, place names have been used as a means of dispossession, physically and psychologically. It also ­mitigates against names that may be arbitrary, partisan, ­offensive or bear little relation to the town’s history and situation.”

A City Press reader who calls himself (or herself) Touche Douche might have the answer to the name-changing ­conundrum in this tongue-in-check suggestion: “Just call ­everything Nelson Mandela. Here’s an example: I live at Unit?3, Mandelaview Heights, #79 Third Nelson Mandela Ave, Nelson Mandela Park, City of Nelson Mandela, Mandela Province, 54445...”

Now who would object to that?

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