Call to stop name changes for towns in South Africa

 ·14 Mar 2024

The Democratic Alliance has written to Minister of Sports, Art and Culture Zizi Kodwa, requesting that he halt the process of renaming three towns and one settlement in the Eastern Cape.

The Eastern Cape Provincial Geographical Names Committee (ECPGNC) has been holding public hearings in the province to change the names of the towns, including Graaff-Reinet and Aberdeen.

The committee wants to make the following changes:

  • Graaff-Reient to Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe
  • Adendorp to Kwa Mseki Bishop Limba;
  • Aberdeen to Camdeboo; and
  • Nieu-Bethesda to Kwa Noheleni.

According to Samantha Graham-Maré, member of parliament and the constituency leader in the Dr Beyers Naude municipality, the entire process has been shrouded in mystery and improper public engagements, bringing the legitimacy of the changes into question.

She said that multiple requests to identify who had applied for the name changes – and the motivations for the changes – have been met with silence from the committee or dismissed on the grounds of the POPI Act.

In addition to this, she said that public engagements had been cut short due to language issues (ad the committee could not understand Afrikaans), mismanaged or overrun with unrelated anecdotes, not giving enough space for residents and those impacted to have their say.

She claimed the response to the changes has been overwhelmingly negative, especially from residents.

“Barring one, all of the public meetings held in Dr Beyers Naude indicated an overwhelming opposition by the residents. One meeting in Graaff-Reinet, in the area in which Robert Sobukwe was born and lived until he was 15, was dominated by people who supported the proposed name change.

“The meeting in Adendorp showed two definitive opinions – opposition by the residents and support by people bussed in from Gqeberha,” she said.

Graham-Maré said that none of the meetings allowed attendees to vote, questions calling for transparency were shot down, and accused the committee of demonstrating a general “abuse of power” when engaging with the public.

“The ongoing reference by the Chairperson that, while they were at the meetings for the purpose of public participation, objections could only be raised once the name was Gazetted by the Minister.

“This created the perception that there was a predetermined outcome and that the public participation was merely a box-checking exercise.”

The Graaff-Reinet economic forum has been on record in its opposition to the changes, noting that the town relies heavily on tourism, and changing a recognisable name such as Graaff-Reinet would hurt businesses.

The ECPGNC previously stated that the changes are necessary to redress and transform old geographical naming systems.

Read: Name change for popular tourist town in South Africa hits resistance

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