A lot more name changes coming for South African towns, roads, and others

 ·3 Jun 2024

There are currently almost five dozen active applications for name changes for several geographical features in South Africa, despite the process still being called into question by other political parties and the public.

According to the South African Geographic Names Council (SAGNC), 58 name changes are still in the application process, which is tracked on its website.

These name changes will apply to various geographical features across the country as outlined within the SAGNC mandate, including towns, villages, settlements, townships, mountains, rivers, airports, roads, and post offices.

The SAGNC was established by the South African Geographical Names Council Act, 1998 (Act No.118 of 1998) as the body responsible for standardising geographical names in South Africa.

According to the Council, its mission is to standardise geographical names in South Africa and to redress, correct and transform the geographical naming system in South Africa.

Interestingly, the SAGNC recorded data shows that the council has gazetted and named or renamed 1,505 geographical features in South Africa since its inception.

While it’s not possible to determine which geographical feature names are proposed to change (or where) at this time, historical data does give us an indication.

Looking at SAGNC’s data, the majority of name changes have occurred in Kwa-Zulu Natal (KZN) and the Eastern Cape (EC).

The total number of applications received and gazetted KZN since the start of the geographical names process in the Republic of South Africa stands at 362, while the Eastern Cape Geographical Names Committee (ECPGNC) has noted 312.

Additionally, the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture noted in November last year 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.

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 awareness workshops for the public in the Free State to create community awareness of the urgency to transform South Africa’s naming landscape, the department said.

Push back

Despite the department’s aim of transforming the names of South Africa’s geographical features, the changes are an endlessly controversial topic in South Africa.

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.

However, many critics accuse the government of engaging in costly renaming projects instead of addressing the mounting cost of living, infrastructure, and social distress issues communities face.

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.

More recently, the ECPGNC has been holding public hearings in the EC to change the names of several towns, including Graaff-Reinet and Aberdeen.

The proposed changes have been met with pushback from the affected communities, and political parties in the province have questioned the process used to advance them.

Samantha Graham-Maré, a member of parliament and the constituency leader in the Dr Beyers Naude municipality, said the entire process has been shrouded in mystery and improper public engagements, which has questioned the legitimacy of the changes.

Additionally, at the end of March 2024, a host of name changes were pushed through as part of the department’s last round of name changes in South Africa before the end of the 2023 financial year.

Among the gazetted changes are Ladysmith in KZN to uMnambithi and Kirkwood in the Eastern Cape to Nqweba.

Read: Massive property, electricity and water rate hikes expected to hit major cities in South Africa soon

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