Sport, arts and culture minister Nathi Mthethwa has rejected all objections made against the name changes in the Eastern Cape.
In February, Mthethwa announced the new names for cities, towns and airports in the Eastern Cape, including Port Elizabeth. The city was changed to Gqeberha, while neighbouring town Uitenhage was changed to Kariega and King William’s Town was changed to Qonce. The East London Airport was changed to King Phalo Airport and Port Elizabeth Airport to Chief Dawid Stuurman International Airport.
The name changes received backlash from the municipality and residents who petitioned against them.
According to the ministry, it received 690 e-mails with objections to the name changes and three boxes with petition signatures of 12,402 residents of Nelson Mandela Bay municipality were sent through to the office of the executive mayor.
In March the DA launched a petition to object to the name changes. The petition garnered 17,102 signatures out of the 50,000 goal.
“The objections varied from claims that insufficient consultation was done at the local level, alternative names had been ignored, the renaming would drive away tourists, or that the money spent on renaming could be better spent on service delivery, and claims that the new names have nothing to do with the people of Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality or are a duplication of existing place names,” said ministry spokesperson Masechaba Khumalo.
Khumalo said Mthethwa rejected all the objections based on advice he received from the South African Geographical Names Council (SAGNC).
“After receiving the advice of the SAGNC and after applying his mind to the merits of all the objections, the minister has decided that all the objections do not merit the review of the decisions on geographical names gazetted on February 23. Thus, all the objections are rejected,” she said.
She reiterated that the name changes were for transformation purposes and to ensure that the names of places in SA reflect the languages, culture and heritage of the majority of the people of the country, instead of “reflecting the country’s colonial and apartheid past”.
“The renaming of geographical features is also done in line with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which recommended the renaming of geographical features after those who contributed towards the attainment of freedom and democracy as part of symbolic reparations.
“As a country, SA needs to accelerate the transformation of the names of places we live in so that we can bequeath to our children and grandchildren a country whose place names reflect their language, culture and heritage,” said Khumalo.
At the height of the backlash, Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Nqaba Bhanga told HeraldLIVE that the name change for Port Elizabeth was a big mistake and that it would have far-reaching consequences.
“You are dealing with people who don’t care about the consequences because anything rational is not their nature,” he said.
Bhanga also refused to be introduced as “the mayor from Gqeberha” on Cape Talk.
“If you want to talk about restoration, you can’t say you are restoring the language of Xhosa using Gqeberha because it has no meaning,” he said at the time.
“If it’s a Khoi name, it must be written in Khoi, and in this case, it’s not written in Khoi and therefore it’s not restoration but distortion. This is an insult to both Khoi and Xhosa.”