The Department of Sports, Arts and Culture says that it has been running awareness campaigns in the Free State in a bid to speed up the pace of name changes in the province.
Responding to a parliamentary Q&A this past week, the department said that the pace of name changes in the Free State has been “very slow”.
To pick up the pace, the South African Geographical Names Council held an awareness campaign in Bloemfontein on the 28 of June 2023, it said, during which, all district municipalities and the Provincial Geographical Names Committee were given information on the process that needs to be followed when names of streets, towns and cities are proposed to be changed.
“This process includes public consultation with the local communities. This awareness workshop was livestreamed to the public in the Free State to create community awareness of the urgency to transform South Africa’s naming landscape,” it said.
However, despite its efforts, proposals for name changes in the province have not been forthcoming.
According to the department, there are many reasons for this – but primarily, it’s because municipalities and local authorities are more focused on pressing service delivery issues.
The department said that the South African Geographical Names Act 118 of 1998 does not provide for the government, at a national level, to actively propose name changes.
The minister can only make decisions on names submitted by applicants.
“Local communities are prioritising service delivery matters like housing, employment, water, and electricity over the transformation of our naming landscape.
The department also laid the blame on budget cuts.
“The cut in the budget allocations for the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture makes it increasingly difficult to conduct major public awareness campaigns on radio, television, and social media,” it said.
Name changes are an endlessly controversial topic in South Africa, with many critics accusing the government of engaging in costly renaming projects instead of addressing the mounting cost of living, infrastructure and social distress issues communities face.
The department has previously said that the transformation of the naming landscape in South Africa is ‘a critical component of the heritage landscape as a whole’.
One of the biggest points of contention with name changes in South Africa is that they carry a cost to the fiscus while doing little to alleviate the pressures on the communities they represent.
It is also widely seen as a political tool that delivers no meaningful benefit to communities. For example, a couple of political parties recently hailed the renaming of William Nicol in Johannesburg as a resounding success and positive step for the city – while the metro’s infrastructure continues to crumble, and the city’s leadership cannot find stable ground.
South Africa has seen several key name changes over the last few years, mainly concentrated in the Eastern Cape. Aside from the naming of new geographic features in KwaZulu-Natal, most of the changed names for towns and cities have been in the Eastern Cape.
According to the department, 103 geographical name changes have occurred in the Eastern Cape since 2019.