EFF's attempt to have Cape Town airport named after Madikizela-Mandela thwarted

The late Winnie Madikizela Mandela. (SA Sports Illustrated)
The late Winnie Madikizela Mandela. (SA Sports Illustrated)

An attempt by the EFF to persuade the National Assembly to pass a resolution allowing for Cape Town International Airport to be renamed after struggle stalwart Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was thwarted in the National Assembly on Tuesday.

During what was a relatively chaos-free sitting of the National Assembly, EFF leader Julius Malema and his party opened the debate and spoke about the "false idea of only men leading the revolution" and the "otherwise male-driven movie of revolution".

He said honouring Madikizela-Mandela by naming one of the major ports of entry in South Africa could "shine the sun of freedom on our dark and painful past".

Their argument was simple – Madikizela-Mandela was a pivotal figure in the struggle who should, according to their calculations, be elevated above other female struggle icons. It was not enough for the airport to be named after just any woman, it has to be Madikizela-Mandela and it has to be Cape Town International Airport.

Parties opposing this proposal included the ANC, DA and NFP which instead opted to amend the resolution to support the process already underway under the leadership of Airports Company South Africa (ACSA).

ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu said the party acknowledged that ACSA had already started a process, informed by the relevant legislation, which regulates the renaming of Cape Town International Airport and further acknowledged that Madikizela-Mandela, Albertina Sisulu, Nelson Mandela, Chris Hani, Khoi leader Krotoa, Robert Sobukwe and Alex la Guma were some of the names being considered in the renaming process.

EFF resolution 'misplaced'

"The House therefore resolved to reaffirm and support the process undertaken by ACSA and the outcome of which will be submitted to the Geographical Names Council for further processing and finalisation."

He said the ANC introduced the amendments because the initial draft resolution brought forward by the EFF was "fundamentally misplaced".

"Firstly, Parliament is not constitutionally empowered to resolve on any name change, nor is it within its ambit to process the renaming of any institution or structure within the republic. Rather, its constitutional role is to make laws, pass the budget, hold the executive accountable, carry out oversight and ensure public participation takes place."

He said the South African Geographical Names Council was empowered by the South African Geographical Names Council Act (1998), whose mandate was to establish the policies and principles for the naming of geographical features; standardise the geographical names under its jurisdiction; and recommend standardised names to the minister of arts and culture for approval.

"Furthermore, their (EFF) draft resolution circumvents the current legislative process that has been undertaken by ACSA through its public meetings on the very same matter in 2018."

Because of this, the resolution brought forward by the EFF would not bode well for upholding the constitutional imperatives of public participation, he said.

Airport must be named after someone 'tried and tested'

"The ANC respects and supports the ACSA process underway to find appropriate names changes for all four airports, including the Cape Town International Airport. We must, however, state our disappointment at the EFF for attempting to use Parliament to unduly influence a process which is already underway."

He said the amended resolution, which was adopted by the National Assembly on Tuesday evening, would ensure that the renaming of the airports reflected an open, transparent, people-oriented and people-driven process.

Earlier in the evening during the debate, ANC MP Dikeledi Magadzi said that the renaming a public building was meant to unite through input from various sectors of society, not to be used as a single political party's ploy. 

Magadzi went on to mention that the airport was world-renowned and that such a significant institution deserved to be named after someone who was "tried and tested" and who had "substance and virtue in the country" – to audible gasps of shock and astonishment from EFF members.

"We will never rewrite our history by forgetting some of our heroes, heroines, who have contributed immensely," Magadzi continued before listing a veritable who's who of female struggle icons and historical figures. She then made a point that was to be repeated by many other parties: that populism should be avoided and that icons should not be used as electioneering tools.

This did not sit well with the EFF members who were heckling and goading the member for a reaction. The constant heckling by EFF member Nokulunga Sonti led to Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli intervening and requesting that she leave the assembly chambers, much to the chagrin of EFF chief whip Floyd Shivambu who objected on procedural grounds.

Call for 'people of the Cape' to be heard

Shivambu added that the outgoing Tsenoli should leave sooner, saying: "You must be removed like a dog!"

Malema rose to his deputy's side, finger aimed at Tsenoli, and said he was not afraid of violence. He threatened to throw his glass of water at the Speaker. He later withdrew the threat unconditionally. At this point, the topic of the debate, Madikizela-Mandela, had almost been forgotten.

When the metaphorical dust had settled, Gregory Grootboom of the DA took to the podium espousing his party's view that the forcing of this particular name was largely a divisive act of political grandstanding. His party position insisted on a process of public participation.

His colleague in the DA, Annelie Lotriet, called for the "people of the Cape to be heard" and said that the scope of names to be considered should extend further than the 20th century, once again Krotoa was mentioned to the jubilation of the public gallery.

Shaik Emam of the NFP also took to the podium and mentioned that the idea of commemorating Madikizela-Mandela had already been tossed around and that the appropriate way to do this would be in the form of a statue to stand in the grounds of Parliament.

One of the last speakers on the podium to not throw their weight behind the idea of renaming the airport after the stalwart was Xoliswa Tom of the ANC.

Bringing in themes that were brought up by the various political parties, she said that this process of renaming needed to be orderly, that the name should be drawn from a wide-ranging group of struggle stalwarts and serve to unite the people of South Africa.

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