SA seeks to change apartheid-era street names

The Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA) has called on members of the public to suggest new street names in the city, replacing those of apartheid era prime ministers Hendrik Verwoerd and Hans Strijdom.

The names are highly offensive and reminiscent of “a painful era in the country’s history”.

However, the JDA said the majority of residents in the northern Johannesburg suburb of Randburg, where the two streets are cited, are still to decide on whether to go through with the name change or whether to hold it off, despite heavily pressure for the removal of apartheid names across the country.

Verwoerd, who was South African prime minister from 1958 until his assassination in 1966, was the main architect of the apartheid system that sought to “divide and rule” South Africans during the apartheid era.

Strijdom, on the other hand was the brains behind the extension of pass laws to women, the development of a separate voters role for coloureds and Indians and the end of multiracial trade unions.

JDA officials said a survey by the agency had found that the majority of South Africans found the street names of Verwoerd and Strijdom offensive and would “rather they were removed”.

The JDA’s development manager, Ursula Ntabane said the agency would “try as much as possible” to lobby stakeholders of the area to change the names as part of an initiative to “rebuild” the identity of the country.

“We understand and respect the fact that the changing of street and place names is a highly emotive issue.

“However the memories these names hold are not memories that build us as a nation,” Ntabane said.

The process of collecting suggestions for new names for the streets is expected to begin over the next two months, with residents being interviewed by specialised researchers.

Ntabane said the JDA hopes to complete the process by November, when the City of Johannesburg’s council committee is expected to make a final decision on the matter.

The wave of name changes has spread rapidly across the entire country over the past two years, with citizens pushing for the removal of all names associated with the country’s apartheid history.

However the majority of cases have also met with stern resistance by some residents, who have accused councils and local authorities of making changes to street and city names without consulting them.

The height of contention arose during the renaming of the capital, Pretoria, to Tshwane ‘ a move that was hotly contested residents in the city.

The changes in street names have also pitted the ruling African National Congress against the opposition Democratic Alliance, which has pushed for increased public participation in the renaming process.

In a recent debate on name changes in Pretoria , ANC councillor Patricia Blaauw said street names in Pretoria symbolised Afrikaner national pride.

“Our history has evolved within two primary contexts; colonialism and apartheid domination, and post-colonialism and post-apartheid transformation,” she said, ad

DA councillor Philip Gohl said public participation was a must, and this had to be done in accordance with the relevant legislation.

Gohl said the country’s constitution stated that public participation played an integral part in the decision-making process.

“The Municipal Systems Act (Act 32 of 2000) furthermore confirms public participation and stipulates that this must be carried out before a decision is made,” said Gohl.

Tshwane’s ANC led metro council resolved last year to transform policy on renaming and naming of new streets, deciding that new names would only be considered if they focussed on “the promotion of the cultural heritage, significance of branding the City of Tshwane in the context of an African city and centre of excellence, and giving due recognition to the people who have committed to the liberation of our country and continent”.

The new policy would also see elected members being given the sole mandate to enact any name changes, a shift from the original policy that allowed any person could propose a name for a street or public place.

The name had to be researched and include a brief history and motivation as to why the name should be considered.

July 2006
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