AP NEWS
Related topics

New Government Will Mean New Names With AM-South Africa, Bjt

May 7, 1994

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ The conservative white farmers of South Africa’s heartland must think their worst nightmare has come true: their new provincial leader is a black man called Terror, and he wants to rename their capital city ″place of the cheetah.″

The proposal opened what could become an explosive debate over the names of cities, airports, highways and streets now that the country’s black majority is in power.

Hundreds of communities have streets and statues honoring pro-apartheid politicians, while the lives of black South Africans are barely acknowledged. The issue is close to the hearts of many blacks, who see renaming as a chance to write themselves into their country’s history.

″If people feel that they don’t want to live in a town that reminds them of the apartheid government or that they don’t want to travel through an airport that reminds them of pass laws, then the people should be encouraged to change this,″ said Uriel Abrahamse of the ANC’s arts and culture department.

But white extremists could rally around the fight to preserve their ancestors’ mark on South Africa. Business people are unlikely to welcome the expense of changing stationery and addresses to suit the country’s new look.

″There are far greater priorities that should be occupying our political leaders than tackling potentially divisive issues like changing names,″ said Marius de Jaeger, director of the Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce.

Open up a map of South Africa and become an armchair explorer of apartheid. Trace your finger from the tip of the continent, where D.F. Malan Airport recalls one of apartheid’s prime ministers, to the eastern border, where the hamlet of Piet Retief honors a leader of the 19th-century Great Trek north by Afrikaners fleeing British influence down south.

Afrikaans terms are plentiful, but there are few names in Sotho, Zulu or any of the other nine African languages that, along with English and Afrikaans, became official national languages in the constitution that ended apartheid.

Patrick ″Terror″ Lekota - the nickname was earned on the soccer field - is an African National Congress activist who was elected premier of the Orange Free State in the country’s first multiracial election.

One of his first acts was to propose changing the name of the provincial capital from Bloemfontein to Mangaung, a Sotho word meaning ″place of the cheetah.″ Bloemfontein means ″flower spring″ in Afrikaans, the language of the first white settlers from the Netherlands and of their farmer descendants.

″In some ways, the whole process of the naming of the South African landscape in the past has made sure that our landscape is inscribed with Boer and British history,″ said Abrahamse. ″Boer″ is an Afrikaans term meaning ″farmer″ that Afrikaners bear proudly.

Over the years, black South Africans have honored heroes ignored or reviled by white government, naming squatter camps for such ANC leaders as Oliver Tambo and Chris Hani and dusty township streets after Nelson Mandela.

Mandela, whose ANC swept the April 26-29 poll, is to be elected the country’s first black president Monday. His followers see no reason why his name shouldn’t grace the wide avenues of South Africa’s major cities.

Abrahamse said an ANC government plans no unilateral changes - but would support popular efforts to rename places.

″If we are forever going to sit with Boer and British history in the names of our towns and our cities and our airports and our streets, (it would be as if) the majority of the people have made no contribution to the nation. That we find monumentally objectionable,″ said Abrahamse.

AP RADIO
Update hourly