A Pretoria, By Any Other Name

The government of South Africa is casting a reformist eye to country’s place names. They are too white.

Residents of Pretoria, named after an early war hero of the white Afrikaners who later invented apartheid, won a battle last year to keep the capital city’s name on the map, albeit as part of a broader metropolitan area called Tshwane.

Next year those towns celebrating British royalty and other figures will be under scrutiny, and several may face the chop.

Two that look set to go are the industrial city of Port Elizabeth, named after the wife of a Cape Colony governor, and George, a sleepy town on the south coast, more famous for its lush golf courses than the English king to whom it pays homage.

National Geographical Names Council chairman Tommy Ntsewa said: “Personally, I would support such a move, because why should we be honouring King George? For what? For colonising us?”

These problems are an inevitable consequence of the march of human progress and politics – coupled with more recently acquired sensitivites to the politically incorrect, place names are going to be a perpetual source of irritation. The ribbon cutting celebration opening “Winnie Wharf” today may well become the offensive Port Elizabeth of tomorrow. And as we are all coming to understand, the right of future citizens not to be offended ought to be enshrined in law,

But that is likely to be a cumbersome and contentious process. To address this, we should apply a sunset clause to all place names, so that they will automatically expire at set intervals. This way, each new political generation can respond more efficiently to those most recently insulted by the historical fact of their choosing.

crossposted to small dead animals

FILED UNDER: Africa, World Politics,
Kate McMillan
About Kate McMillan
Kate McMillan is the proprietor of small dead animals, which has won numerous awards including Best Conservative Blog and Best Canadian Blog. She contributed nearly 300 pieces to OTB between November 2004 and June 2007. Follow her on Twitter @katewerk.