from Africa in Transition

In South Africa, What’s in a Name?

April 18, 2012

Blog Post
Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

More on:

Sub-Saharan Africa

South Africa

Since the coming of "non-racial democracy" in South Africa, ANC-led governing bodies especially at the local level have renamed numerous streets and other public facilities that formerly honored Afrikaner nationalists. Hence the country’s principal international airport at Johannesburg has been renamed to honor Oliver Tambo, a father of the ANC; it formerly was called Jan Smuts, after the twentieth century Afrikaner politician.

Now, prodded by the mayor, sentiment seems to be growing to rename Pretoria. Among those who want the change, a consensus favors Tswane, with suburbs (likely mostly white) retaining the name Pretoria. But, as Pretoria is the national capital, renaming is not only a local matter. The national Minister of Arts and Culture recently announced that there would be broad-based consultations on the name change, a process that he hoped would be concluded in June.

Pretoria was founded and named by Boers who made the nineteenth century Great Trek and served as the capital of the Boer republic of Transvaal. It was the Boer capital during the Boer War (called by the British the South African War). So retention of the name is important to many Afrikaners and other whites. It is no surprise that the Freedom Front Plus, a right wing white party that nevertheless has a seat in the ANC-dominated national cabinet, is opposed to renaming Pretoria.

Consultation and search for consensus has been part of the ANC’s culture. Though renaming Pretoria has the potential for rubbing raw both blacks (who dislike the association of ’Pretoria’ with the apartheid regime) and whites (especially Afrikaners who associate ’Pretoria’ with their national epic), at the end of the day a compromise is likely that will incorporate both names. That has happened in the old province of Natal, now renamed KwaZulu-Natal, a moniker that seems to be widely accepted. Will it be Tswane-Pretoria or Pretoria-Tswane?

More on:

Sub-Saharan Africa

South Africa

Up
Close