Gazetting name change won’t be the end of it

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Your editorial “Name Change Controversies” (Grocott’s Mail 8 June ) refers inter alia to all the protracted debate over changing Grahamstown’s name and quotes Judith February’s comment that the debate about name changes “needs to happen in a way that unites and does not drive South Africans further apart.”

Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu warned many years ago about the divisiveness of name changes and referred to them as a “monumental red herring”  to distract from the failures of government.

February’s comment and Tutu’s warning have specific relevance to Grahamstown where the failures of government, particularly at the local government level, are all too evident.

At first the push to change Grahamstown’s name came from within our own local Council and according to the then Mayor, it was going to happen within months.  It didn’t because Grahamstonians didn’t want it to happen and two further attempts also failed despite a costly propaganda campaign to “educate” Grahamstonians as to why the name should be changed.

That seemed to have been the end of the matter but the Eastern Cape Provincial Geographical Names Committee (ECPGNC) and the South African Geographical Names Council (SAGNC) had different ideas.  They launched a “process” of their own comprising a single meeting attended by fewer than 100 people which supported the proposal that Grahamstown’s name be changed to Makhanda.

However, the ECPGNC then received a flood of objections which led to the SAGNC convening a meeting with objectors in Grahamstown earlier this year.

The meeting was called at short notice and SAGNC probably hoped for a no-show by objectors but they got more than they bargained for. The bias of the Chairperson of the SAGNC, Johnny Mohlala, was clearly demonstrated at the meeting and he resorted to ridiculing objectors.  It therefore came as no surprise when it was announced in the Grocott’s Mail the following week that according to Mohlala, the SAGNC had decided to recommend the name change.

But since then, SAGNC has refused to officially confirm its position and simply ignores correspondence on the issue.  Correspondence addressed to the Minister of Arts and Culture, who has the final say on the matter, has also not elicited any meaningful response.

Judging from what has happened with other name changes recently, such as that of Queenstown to Komani,  the KGG anticipates that the next we will hear is that the change from Grahamstown to Makhanda has been gazetted.  Even if that happens, however, and whatever the ECPGNC may say to the contrary (as they did in the case of Queenstown’s name change), gazetting the name change is not the end of the matter as those opposed to the name change will still have 30 days to object.

And so we wait in anticipation of that eventuality and the ECPGNC, SAGNC and the Minister of Arts & Culture have been warned that if they go ahead contrary to public opinion, they can expect a similar embarrassment to that which they have already suffered in connection with other botched name changes.

Jock McConnachie & Sigidla Ndumo

Joint Co-ordinators, Keep Grahamstown Grahamstown (KGG).

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