‘You can’t put a price on transformation’ – Eastern Cape government rejects Port Elizabeth name change complaints

The Department of Sports, Recreation, Arts and Culture in the Eastern Cape has dismissed over 130 objections to proposed name changes in the Eastern Cape – which would see the Port Elizabeth changed to Gqeberha.

The proposal was put forward in 2019, and included proposals like the renaming of Port Elizabeth Airport to David Stuurman Airport, and Uitenhage to Kariega.

According to the department, the main proposal – changing Port Elizabeth to Gqeberha – drew 139 objections, including two petitions with 180 signatures – while the Uitenhage/Kariega proposal drew 25 objections.

All objections were rejected by the department.

In its summary of the complaints, the department said the main issues raised included the cost associated with such a name change, especially when most living in the area struggle to find work, and make a living.

Complainants said that money should rather go towards improving infrastructure in the province, helping the people of the province with food, homes and jobs, instead of changing names which already have international recognition.

However, in its response, the department said that standardisation (or name changes) should be viewed as part of the greater “transformation agenda” in South Africa.

“This transformation agenda seeks to redress the imbalances of the past, therefore no quantifiable price tag could be put on it,” it said.

It also said that the cost complaints cannot be justified as name changes are part of the mandate – and budgeted by the Department of Arts and Culture – and costs like changing signs are assigned under Sanral or the Department of Transport.

While it acknowledged that unemployment and poverty are a problem, “we don’t believe that putting the process of standardisation on hold will resolve these challenges”.

The department said that changing of names was not unique to South Africa, nor was it new to the country, citing examples of where name changes took place and economic activity continued.

These include:

  • Johannesburg International Airport becoming OR Tambo International Airport;
  • Constantinople becoming Istanbul;
  • Barclays Bank becoming FNB;
  • United Bank becoming Absa;
  • Simonsberg Cheese becoming Presidents Cheese.

“This confirms that people are not going to a name, but to a feature. There is no scientific evidence that changes in geographical names impacted on the performance and profile of industries with international connections,” it said.

“Having applied its mind on the objections received, the Eastern Cape Provincial Geographical Names Committee found no grounds to sustain the objections.”

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‘You can’t put a price on transformation’ – Eastern Cape government rejects Port Elizabeth name change complaints