Zuma criticises colonialism

2012-05-18 00:00

PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma castigated supporters of South Africa’s colonial past yesterday when he renamed Durban’s iconic King’s House presidential home.

The palatial two-storey Edwardian villa, with its park gardens and sweeping verandas, has been given the name of the ANC’s first president, Dr John Langalibalele Dube.

The change ends more than a century of reference to the country’s former imperial master, a moment Zuma toasted with flutes of pink sparkling wine.

With Dube’s only surviving child Lulu and younger generations of the family in attendance, Zuma anticipated controversy with his decision by going on the offensive.

“It is only those who are in denial about the inhuman practices and atrocities perpetrated against indigenous populations by colonial powers in every part of the world, who would think that the exercise we are embarking upon is not necessary and important.”

Invoking the legacies of Dube, Mahatma Gandhi and Chief Albert Luthuli, Zuma said he hoped all South Africans would see the decision as an act of reconciliation.

Then he waded into his critics.

“It is interesting that there are still some sections of our population who argue that the standardisation of geographical names in South Africa is an unnecessary wasteful exercise, which is undertaken to spite certain cultural or linguistic groups.

“They even go as far as arguing that the process of standardising geographical names should be abandoned and the money used to build RDP houses.”

Zuma reminded his guests — who included eThekwini Mayor James Nxumalo, Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane, deputy ministers, MECs and directors-general — of the “suffering of the majority for over three centuries” under colonial and apartheid powers.

The function was held on the lawns of the Eastbourne Road property in a swanky glass gazebo under tight security. Armed roving task force members prowled the grounds while suited guards kept a close watch on guests, including journalists, who were barred from filming or photographing the house.

The National Key Points Act safeguards selected sites of strategic importance, among them the official presidential abode. Capturing images of these locations is forbidden.

Only a stone’s throw away from the Morningside home of Zuma’s former financial adviser and convicted fraudster, Schabir Shaik, the site underwent a R46 million makeover in 2009, mostly to enhance security. The original building was completed in 1904 and has been a tropical retreat for sitting presidents, Nelson Mandela included, and visiting statesmen ever since.

Zuma said he was fulfilling a promise made in his state of the nation address in February to use the names of struggle icons on official buildings. Dube, he insisted, was an obvious choice as “one of the most outstanding patriots and personalities in our country”.

“He is well known as an accomplished essayist, philosopher, educator, politician, publisher, editor, novelist and poet.”

In further praise, he said Dube – born in 1871 — made a significant contribution to media diversity and media freedom with his newspaper Ilanga lase Natal.

This gave people a mirror to hold up to themselves and a means of recording their own lives “instead of having our stories being told by those who are hostile to our very existence”, the president added.

Dube died in 1946, having established Ohlange High School at Inanda nearly 50 years earlier.

Before his address, Zuma unveiled a plaque officially renaming the building.

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