John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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In South Africa, What’s in a Name?

by John Campbell
April 18, 2012

Demonstrators protest against the proposed renaming of the South African capital Pretoria in this May 21, 2005. (Lerato Maduna/Courtesy Reuters)


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?

Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by Henri Le Riche

    “Consultation and search for consensus has been part of the ANC’s culture.”

    Unfortunately this has not been the case.

    The ANC is a party that says one thing, but does another. “Black party that speaks with forked tongue”.

    A great example. Jan Smuts Airport was named about a great Boer war leader. One of the founding members of the United Nations, and coined the term “Holism”. It was “agreed” with the ANC that no airport would be named after political leaders, so it was agreed the airport would be given a neutral name, Johannesburg International Airport. This only lasted for a few months until the ANC,without consultation, renamed it to their political leader, Oliver Thambo, or as it’s known, OR Thambo International Airport. The name it currently still has. No consultation by the ANC. On various occasions it changed names of WW2 hero’s, and changed it to rebels who murdered civilians, or communist leaders.

    The ANC is a marxist regime, using “democracy” as a disguise to fool, or should i rather say “appease” the west.

    Im no political analyst, but one thing i can say. This decision to give power to this regime, will come back to haunt the west some time or another. Evil, though not et realised, was allowed to govern.

  • Posted by Mohlatlego Matsapola

    Henri get in the shoes of those requesting Tshwane and you will understand

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