19 September 2008

The Times - Let’s stay off Resentment Road

Jonathan Jansen writes about visiting Durban recently and finding that many of the streets had been renamed, and questions the wisdom of renaming places to commemorate political party hacks.

The Times - Let’s stay off Resentment Road:
Imagine, for example, naming a street after Julius Malema, the youthful idiot who found a way of remaining in the news by threatening to “eliminate” or “crush” the enemies of his campaign to seat Jacob Zuma in the presidency.

As the Sarah Palin of South African politics, he is a dangerous demagogue rescued from obscurity and not sure what to do with his new-found power other than display his limited vocabulary with words like “kill”. Apartheid taught him well.

I have to admit a certain amount of sympathy. I too visited Durban recently, and had the problem of finding myself in Problem Mkhize Road, and wondering what Problem Mkhize had done for Durban. Though I have to admit that I didn't really know what Mr Cowey (after whom the road was previously named) had done for Durban either.

One of the nice things about the 1990s was that after our first democratic elections a lot of places and buildings named after politicians got renamed with neutral names. The Marais Viljoen Building down the road from us was sensibly named Compensation House (it houses the offices of the Workmens Compensation Commissioner). The Hendrik Verwoerd Dam was renamed to something neutral. Jan Smuts Airport became the Johannesburg International Airport -- that was a bit silly, because it isn't in Johannesburg, it's in Ekurhuleni. Now it's the O.R. Tambo International Airport, so it doesn't really matter where it is.

I liked the idea of removing the names of politicians (especially living ones) from the names of places, because naming things after politicians smacks of totalitarianism to me. In Moscow, Kalinin Propekt is now Arbat again, and Kaliningrad is back to being Tver.

One of the last acts of the last Nationalist city council of Pretoria was to rename Kilnerton Road to C.R. Swart Drive. Part of it has been re-re-named back to Kilnerton Road, but the rest remains with the name of C.R. Swart. That, it seemed to me, was a calculated insult to black people. The Kilnerton Institute was a well-known educational institution in eastern Pretoria, run by the Methodist Church. Many black South African leaders received their education there. In the 1960s it was closed down as part of the ethnic cleansing that took place to implement apartheid, and renaming the road seemed to be a deliberate attempt to remove even its memory. C.R. Swart, however, was Minister of Justice in the 1950s, and presided over the introduction of some of the most oppressive and racist legislation ever to disgrace our statute book. I would not be at all sorry to see his Drive go.

I've got nothing against O.R. Tambo or Pixley ka Seme, or Rick Turner or Alan Paton. They were certainly not repulsive like C.R. Swart and worked for freedom and justice rather than to oppress people. But I wonder how happy they would have been to have things named after them?

But the Nationalist City Council of Pretoria has gone too. Pretoria joined with twelve other local authorities to become part of the megacity of Tshwane, and Pretoria no longer has its own city council; it is only part of a bigger city. There is now only the council of the City of Tshwane. I'm quite happy about that. Nobody seems to quite know who Tshwane was, except that he is said to have once lived in the area. That's a bit like Cowie's Hill. Unlike Mr Cowey of Cowey Road, Mr Cowie lived on his hill.

The amalgamation of municipalities and local authorities seems to be a worldwide phenomenon. As Jasper fforde, the author of the books about Thurday Next, the literary detective, points out, the Cheshire Cat of Lewis Carroll's Alice books is now the Unitary Authority of Warrington Cat. And "City of Tshwane" is much easier to say than "Unity Authority of Warrington" or "Nelson Mandela Metropole".

Now suddenly we seem to be back to the 1950s, when the Nationalists were renaming everything after their party hacks. As Bob Dylan once sang, "Oh no, no no, I've been through this movie before."


C. Wingate said...

We get this over here, with the added fillip of selling naming rights. Therefore DC's airport is no longer "National"; it's "Reagan National". Baltimore's airport isn't "BWI (Baltimore Washington International)"; it's "Thurgood Marshall BWI". (They've had to keep the old names in part so that people have some idea of what the radio announcers are talking about.) The football stadium in Baltimore ahs been renamed once, as the company that originally had the naming rights went out of business. At least Marvin Mandel got indicted before they named the undergraduate library at UMCP after him. Sensibly, the Howard County public school system has the policy of naming schools with local place names, so they don't have fights about who they are going to name schools after.

Steve Hayes said...

Yes, we have that too. "The Coca-Cola Stadium" -- where the heck is that?


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