The article “Battle over renaming G’town” published on September 6 2018, followed several news reports about questions regarding the legality of renaming Grahamstown to Makhanda. SA is emerging from a long history of colonial and apartheid domination.As it relates to geographical place-naming, this was a “deliberate” process by our colonisers to ensure they imposed their hegemony on the conquered.
Sir Harry Smith said to AmaXhosa chiefs at the end of the War of the Axe in 1847:
“Your land shall be marked out and marks placed that you will all know it. It shall be divided into counties, towns and villages, bearing English names. You shall all learn to speak English at the schools which I will build for you ... You may no longer be naked and wicked barbarians, which you will ever be, unless you labour and become industrious. You shall be taught to plough; and the Commissary shall buy of you.”
The Eastern Cape Provincial Geographical Names Committee (ECPGNC) was established in terms of Section 2(2)(a) of the SAGNC Act 118 of 1998. Its major responsibility is to facilitate the standardisation of geographical names and ensure the implementation of standardised geographical names and advise the minister of arts and culture on names to be standardised. The standardisation of geographical names (or geographical place-naming) should be understood as part of the government’s broader “deliberate” transformation in line with the relevant laws.
The pressure group Keeping Grahamstown Grahamstown (KGG) has complained about the legality of the process to standardise or rename Grahamstown to Makhanda.
After receiving an application, ECPGNC must call a meeting of stakeholders to explain the process and request stakeholders to tell their constituencies and encourage them to take part in the process. This is an important aspect of ECPGNC’s consultation process.
The application for renaming Grahamstown was received in 2014. When informed about stakeholder engagements, KGG – as one of the key stakeholders – objected to the proposed renaming and the process to be followed, citing processes conducted by the Makana Municipality for the renaming of Grahamstown Local Municipality to Makana Municipality.
However, this was governed by separate legislation and had nothing to do with ECPGNC and this was explained to them on several occasions.
Public hearings proceeded and KGG indicated that they would not attend and would discourage their constituency from attending. .
The process requires that the outcomes of the public engagements be publicised in local newspapers and comments and objections invited. The ECPGNC received more than 200 objections. The content of more than 150 objections was the same as that submitted by the KGG.
All objections were dealt with by the ECPGNC subcommittee on objections which then made recommendations to the ECPGNC. The ECPGNC confirmed the recommendation of the public and that of the objections committee to rename Grahamstown to Makhanda.
This decision was communicated to all objectors, including the KGG. The process allows objectors to appeal to the minister.
A further invitation was extended to the objectors by the South African Geographical Names Council to present their case at a meeting held in February 2018 in Makhanda.
KGG indicated they would not attend, but, in fact, did attend and was afforded an opportunity to make a presentation. Having considered all presentations and evidence, the SAGNC made its recommendations to the minister.
The objection by KGG should be understood for what it is – an attempt to maintain the status quo at all costs.
The very name KGG indicates this was never about the correctness and legitimacy of the process, but to fight for the retention of the name Grahamstown.
KGG threatened legal action long before the process was finalised.
They question the legitimacy of processes they were not part of, for the sole purpose of camouflaging their resistance to democratic transformation.
KGG has not presented any material evidence to suggest a flawed process. If such evidence does exist the minister must be given space to consider such evidence and not be bulldozed by groups such as KGG who are behaving like spoilt brats to get what they want.
The narrative that is being peddled is misleading and anti-transformation.
I am confident that should the matter be taken to court, we would emerge victorious as we followed every legal process to its logical conclusion.
•Jodwana is the deputy chair: Eastern Cape Geographical Names Committee. He writes in his individual capacity.