Row over Blyde name change

2005-04-06 15:46

NelspruitNelspruit - Environmental Affairs and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk is being urged to prevent a "potential tourism disaster" after the renaming of Mpumalanga's Blyde River was bungled.

The river gives its name to the world famous Blyde River Canyon and was recently renamed "Motlatse" without consulting local tourism or conservation authorities.

The word "Motlatse" is also meaningless. The closest equivalent would be the sePedi word "Motlatsa," which means "a river that is always full".

Democratic Alliance leader in the national council of provinces, Watty Watson, expressed concern that the only reason the river's name was changed, was because it was Afrikaans.

He said: "Such a senseless name change is not only an insult to Afrikaans and to the history of our country."

Bad for tourism

Voortrekker women named the river Blyde, meaning joy, when their husbands returned safely from an expedition to find a route to Lourenco Marques in 1840 under the leadership of Hendrik Potgieter.

The women earlier named another river Treur, meaning sorrow, when they thought their husbands had died.

Watson said the name change would also negatively affect the local tourism industry.

The Blyde River Canyon is the third-largest canyon in the world and the fourth most visited tourism site, drawing a million tourists a year.

Neither the Mpumalanga Tourism Authority, nor the Mpumalanga Parks Board were consulted during the name change process.

NCOP to debate its role

Watson said: "The expenses to be incurred in effecting these and further contemplated changes, can be utilised more productively to promote rather than to run down tourism."

He said the DA would ask Van Schalkwyk to intervene and prevent a potential tourism disaster, while the NCOP would be urged to debate its role in name changes.

Watson said: "Name changes of provincial assets are most certainly matters of public interest and the DA believes that the NCOP has a role to fulfil to ensure legitimate name changes."

Chair of Mpumalanga's Geographical Names Committee, John Skhosana, has admitted that "Motlatse" was misspelled and said language experts from the Pan South African Language Board would be consulted.

The committee is mandated to change names that are misspelled, incorrectly translated or offensive.