South Africa: what’s in a name?


Because that’s the most important thing the ANC should be focusing on right now…

By Cape Argus, 2017-06-13

New South Africa, the Rainbow Nation

Cape Town – South Africa wouldn’t be the first African country to change its name after the fall of colonial rule.A number of countries on the continent changed their names after gaining independence.

South Africa only became recognised as such in 1961 after the Union of South Africa adopted a new constitution and became the Republic of South Africa.

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The Union was comprised of the Cape of Good Hope Province (Cape Province; previously Cape Colony), Natal Province (Natal Colony), the Orange Free State Province (Oranje Vrij Staat/Orange River Colony) and the Transvaal Province (Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek/Transvaal Colony), along with the other territories of Transkei and Ciskei.

South Africa’s most intimate neighbour, Lesotho, chose its name in 1966 when it gained independence from the British under whose rule it was known as Basutoland.

To South Africa’s north-west, Namibia was once known as South West Africa when it was under German rule until 1915.

To the country’s north-east, Zimbabwe and Zambia were known as Southern and Northern Rhodesia after Cecil Rhodes, British imperialist and former prime minister of the Cape Colony.

Mozambique was once called Portuguese East Africa, or the Overseas Province of Mozambique, under Portugal’s rule. When it gained independence in 1975 after four centuries of Portuguese rule, it banished all colonial statues and changed all the colonial street names in its capital, Maputo.

Bechuanaland, a protectorate of the British empire, gained independence in 1966 and changed its name to Botswana.

Other formerly colonised countries include Mauritania, The Gambia, Senegal, Niger, Mali, Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso and Benin – formerly known as French West Africa; and Burundi, Rwanda, and Tanzania – formerly part of German East Africa.

Changing one’s name is a costly affair too – between 2012 and 2016, the Czech Republic spent $42m (just over half a billion rand) on a tourism branding campaign to market itself, months before changing its official English name to Czechia.

A new name for South Africa? Arts & culture minister wants to change it

Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa has vowed to lobby the ANC to open a discussion on finding an appropriate name for South Africa.Mthethwa, who is also an ANC NEC member, was responding to calls made by a resident in Molweni to debate the issue of the country’s name during the party’s national policy conference at the end of the month.

Mthethwa told party supporters during a cadre’s forum on Sunday that South Africa was not the name of the country, but just “a geographical description of where we are”.

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Resident Bhekisisa Khanyeza said it was unacceptable for a liberated country to continue with a colonial name.

Mthethwa, whose department is in charge of naming public areas, said the ANC had never given itself time to think about the name of the country.

“To tell the truth, the country does not have a name. It is not there,” he said.

Mthethwa said although the government had made strides in changing the colonial names of some places, there was more to be done. He called on South Africans to assist in identifying improper names, such as Durban and Empangeni.

“Benjamin D’Urban named our place, eThekwini, after himself and called it Durban,” he said.

He said he had also recommended a name change for Empangeni because “there is no such name in Zulu language.

“The area used to be called Embangweni Wombuso wakwa Mthethwa (infighting over the chiefdom of Mthethwa clans),” he said.

He also said the name of uMthwalume village in the south coast was wrongly spelt as it was supposed to be uMthwalumi.

He said his department had successfully changed the name of Uthungulu District Municipality in northern KwaZulu-Natal to King Cetshwayo District Municipality.

The district was previously named after a fruit found in the northern parts of the province, but Mthethwa said the fact that King Cetshwayo used to travel around the area was more important than the fruit.

ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said the issue of the country’s name would be discussed when it was brought before the ANC.

He said the ANC had not taken any position on the matter.

“If there was one member of the NEC who spoke somewhere, expressing his own ideas he must bring them to the ANC for discussion.

“There is currently no discussion in the ANC about changing the country’s name,” said Kodwa.

The president of the African Peoples’ Convention, Themba Godi, said South Africa should have followed the examples of Namibia and Zimbabwe, who changed their colonial names after independence.

“The issue around the name of the country is not far fetched, and we know that from the late 60s the name Azania was used by Azapo and PAC. The APC supports the name Azania,” he said.

Historian, Professor Jabulani Maphalala, said the country’s citizens would have to be given a chance to come up with their preferred name for the country.

“I would have preferred the name Azania, because it is popular among people,” said Maphalala.

EFF spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlonzi said his party also did not support the current name of the country, but added that it would be a futile exercise to rename a country that did not belong to you.

DA arts and culture deputy shadow minister Allen Grootboom said his party could not comment on the matter because it had not been discussed internally.