Geographical Names: Department of Arts & Culture Briefing; South African Arts Lobby Facilitator’s appearance
Arts and Culture
17 June 2008
Chairperson: Ms T Tshivhase (ANC)
The facilitator of the South African Arts Lobby, who had requested an opportunity to brief the Committee, addressed the Chairperson and Members with abusive and foul language that suggested his imminently becoming violent. He was asked to leave the meeting and the matter was reported to the police.
The Department of Arts and Culture briefed the Committee on the background and purpose of the South African Geographical Names Council and progress regarding geographical names. The challenges related to standardisation and transformation of geographical names were outlined, notably perceptions that the heritage of certain cultural groups was being destroyed or that renaming was a reverse form of discrimination, disputes and court cases, the argument that money spent on renaming might better be spent on building houses and creating employment opportunities, and that this process was inimical to national unity and cohesion. The background to the appointment of the Council was explained, and it was noted that the Council was expected to facilitate and conduct nationwide public hearings to encourage national dialogue on issues of geographical names. Communities were being asked, through stakeholders, to identify, and wherever possible do research to validate recommendations for those names that they would like to see transformed or standardised. The awareness campaign was launched in Cape Town on 30 May 2008. Hearings were to run from July to October 2008. It would be necessary to use languages that were understood by the communities concerned. The importance of equitable gender representation in regard to name changes was stressed. It would be necessary throughout the process to reclaim previously marginalised cultural identities but at the same time dispel the notion that certain cultures were being deliberately ignored.
In answer to questions posed seeking clarification on some points, the Department explained further that it would ensure that members of the public were not left with the false impression that each and every geographical name must be changed. The Minister had made this quite clear at the time of the launch of the campaign, and the Department was considering translating the Minister’s speech into all official languages so that its content could be shared across the country. The Department was sensitive to the matter of gender representation with regard to proposed name changes. The Department would definitely invite Members of the Committee to the public hearings and inform them of the venues. The Department indeed welcomed Members’ participation in a process that was emotionally charged and politically sensitive. The Department also answered questions relating to dual names, such as KwaZulu Natal, incorrect names, double spellings, abbreviations that were offensive, misleading signs, and costs. The need to try to reach consensus was stressed.
South African Arts Lobby: Appearance by facilitator
Mr Anthony Milne, Facilitator, South African Arts Lobby (SAAL) had requested, in his letter to the Chairperson dated 12 November 2007, for two dates in 2008 on which SAAL might tender submissions to the Committee; also in his letter, he had said that as spokesperson, he would be honoured to introduce SAAL in person in a short ten minute presentation.
At the beginning of the meeting, Mr Milne quickly became angry, and addressed the Chairperson and Mr H Maluleka (ANC) in abusive, aggressive and foul language, which in addition was highly suggestive of imminent recourse to violence.
Mr Milne was asked to leave the meeting.
The incident was reported to the Police.
When the meeting resumed, the Chairperson observed that ‘it was a blessing in disguise’ that Mr Milne had left.
Geographical Names: Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) Briefing
Mr Trueman Kubheka, Head, South African Geographical Names Unit (SAGNU), Department of Arts and Culture (DAC), briefed the Committee.
Mr Kubheka reminded Members of the background and purpose of the South African Geographical Names Council, noting that he had made a previous presentation with a similar format.
Mr Kubheka then outlined the challenges related to standardisation and transformation of geographical names. There were perceptions that the heritage of certain cultural groups was being destroyed and that renaming was a reverse form of discrimination. There had been disputes and court cases. Arguments were advanced that money spent on renaming might better be spent on building houses and creating employment opportunities, and that the renaming process was “inimical and antithetical to national unity and social cohesion”.
On 23 May 2007 the Cabinet instructed that the Department of Arts and Culture, through the South African Geographical Names Council, should review and redesign its strategy on the standardisation and transformation of names of geographical features.
The South African Geographical Names Council was expected to facilitate and conduct nationwide public hearings to encourage national dialogue on issues of geographical names. This was to entail a process whereby communities should identify those names that they would like to see transformed or standardised.
Prior to the Cabinet’s instruction in May 2007, the Minister of Arts and Culture had, on 23 January 2006, approved the call for nominations for the South African Geographical Names Council, which had been advertised once each in English, Afrikaans, Sesotho and isiZulu in The Sunday Times, City Press and Die Beeld. Only 28 persons – five women and 23 men - were nominated by members of the public.
On account of this poor response and complaints from other sections of society that they had not seen the advertisements, the Minister re-opened the call for nominations, and advertisements were placed in a wider range of publications from 22 June to 01 July 2007. By the closing date of 13 July 2007 the names of 57 candidates had been received - nine women and 48 men - inclusive of those previously nominated.
On 17 August 2007 the Minister appointed a panel under the chairpersonship of Mr Themba Wakashe to assist him in the selection of suitable candidates.
On 12 October 2007 the Minister, taking account of the panel’s recommendations, submissions from provinces, government departments, and institutions, appointed the South African Geographical Names Council in three categories, in terms of the South African Geographical Names Council Act, 1998. The Council would serve from 2007 to 2010. No representatives were appointed from KwaZulu-Natal province, the Western Cape province, the South African Post Office, and the Pan-South African Languages Board, since nominations had not been received. These cases were still outstanding.
In order to initiate the process of nationwide public hearings, an official communication was sent on 27 February 2008 to all premiers, MECs, mayors, national Houses of Traditional Leadership, civil society organisations, political parties, and trade union organisations.
Stakeholders were asked to mobilise their respective communities for suggested name changes and to commission research validating recommended name changes. They were also asked to identify the roles that would be played by various political and administrative principals.
The importance of research to validate recommendations was stressed. In the process of national dialogue it would be necessary to use languages that were understood by the communities concerned. The importance of equitable gender representation in regard to name changes was also stressed.
It would be necessary throughout the process to reclaim previously marginalised cultural identities but at the same time to dispel the notion that certain cultures were being deliberately marginalised.
According to the tentative schedule, public hearings would begin with the Free State, on 02 to 03 July 2008 and conclude with Gauteng on 02 to 03 October 2008. Dates for the Eastern Cape and Northern Cape had still to be established.
Communication and marketing efforts would include mass production of a handbook, information leaflets and a DVD of ten minutes duration on geographical names; fostering partnerships with both electronic and print media; co-operation with community radio stations; and media monitoring to check impact.
Ms D van der Walt (DA) had, during the presentation, objected to the detailed narrative given by Mr Kubheka, on the grounds that Members were already aware of much of the information.
The Chairperson had ruled that Mr Kubheka should continue.
Ms van der Walt said that the essential and most relevant part of the presentation concerned the nationwide public hearings process. These were matters that required discussion; the preceding paragraphs could be studied after the meeting.
Ms van der Walt said that she was concerned that many people, including, perhaps, some Members of the Committee, were taking the issue of geographical name changes to mean that every single geographical name should be changed. This was incorrect and it was necessary to make it very clear that this was not the purpose of the campaign.
Mr Themba Wakashe, Director-General, Department of Arts and Culture, assured Ms Van der Walt that the issues that she had raised would be followed up to ensure that people were not left with the false impression that each and every geographical name must be changed. Mr Wakashe said that the Minister had already made this quite clear at the time of the launch of the campaign. The Department was considering translating the Minister’s speech into all official languages so that its content could be shared across the country.
Ms van der Walt asked for clarification regarding gender representivity as a principle that should inform the public process of nationwide public hearings. There was a high risk of misunderstanding this terminology.
Mr Wakashe explained that the Department had noted a tendency, especially with municipalities, for suggested name changes to favour names of men.
Ms van der Walt also asked about the ‘outstanding provinces’ listed on page 10 and the ‘outstanding’ entities listed on page 11.
Mr H Maluleka (ANC) asked a similar question, noting that it was very important to accommodate all stakeholders to avoid complaints of omissions subsequently.
Ms van der Walt felt that until there had been a first meeting of the board of the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB), it would not be possible to appoint a representative of this Board to serve on the South African Geographical Names Council. It was important to communicate that message to all concerned.
Mr Wakashe responded that the Department was keeping a close watch on PanSALB. The PanSALB board had met the previous week and he agreed with Ms Van der Walt that it was important that due processes were followed.
Ms van der Walt further asked that Committee Members be informed of the dates of the various hearings to enable the Committee to assist, and so that the Committee would not be blamed if any communities were, for whatever reason, omitted from the process.
Ms van der Walt reaffirmed the need for the correct message to be communicated. She said that she herself would attend the hearings to monitor whether the correct message was being put across.
Mr Wakashe assured Ms Van der Walt that the Department would definitely invite Members of the Committee to the public hearings and inform them of the venues. The Department indeed welcomed Members’ participation in a process that was emotionally charged and politically sensitive. In the past, the Department had followed a technical approach but now realised that it should take a broader approach. The political experience that would come from both Houses of Parliament, and from local government, would assist greatly in ensuring that these matters were properly handled.
Mr Wakashe explained that there had indeed been a court challenge concerning the name of Louis Trichardt / Makhado, because some people had said that the consultative process had been inadequate. The Department’s primary aim with the present campaign was to ensure that there was a general understanding nationally about the process, and to ensure that all concerned approached the process in a consultative manner.
The Chairperson asked about places that had two names, for example “KwaZulu-Natal”. She anticipated problems in resolving issues concerning such names and asked if historical factors would be taken into account.
Mr Wakashe said that any proposal to change the name of KwaZulu-Natal would be politically sensitive. This name indicated a particularly South African approach to politics, and reflected a consensus and reconciliation. It was important that this consensus and reconciliation should be carried forward.
Mr B Zulu (ANC) asked for clarification about the identification and collection of names that needed to be addressed, and the listing and classification of names according to the various categories set out on page 15 of the presentation, including corrupted names.
Mr Wakashe gave examples of corrupted names - such as Messina / Musina. Unofficially recognised names in common use were found often in informal settlements.
Ms N Mbombo (ANC) asked what was meant by the ‘outstanding provinces’.
Mr Kubheka and Mr Wakashe confirmed that ‘outstanding’ referred to the lack of nominated representatives for the province or entity concerned. ‘Outstanding’ did not refer to the names.
The Chairperson expressed concern about marginalised languages, including the Tshivenda language with regard to name changes.
Ms D Ramodibe (ANC) commended the presentation and said that some of the Members appreciated the detailed background information given by Mr Kubheka. She said that the public process would be a long one, but the Committee fully supported that process. She asked about names that were already officially recognised.
Mr Wakashe agreed with Ms Ramodibe that the process would be a long one. The Department had set a target of 18 months for the awareness campaign, but the actual process of name changes would take much longer.
Mr N van Zyl, Committee Researcher, with the Chairperson’s permission, asked for some views from the Department on geographical names such as South Africa and Eastern Cape, and whether “South Africa” should, for example, be changed to “Azania”. He also asked about how the costs involved would be distributed over the three spheres of government.
Mr Wakashe noted that no proposal for changing the name of South Africa had been formally tabled to the Department. ‘South Africa’ was a brand name, and was well-known. It was also associated with history and heritage, and evoked memories and values. With regard to distribution of the costs of name changes, the Department had not been involved. The costs of changing road signs were handled by the agencies or municipalities concerned, within their respective budgets.
Ms van der Walt asked that all Members of the Committee receive a copy of the SAGNC handbook. It was very important that Members of the Committee should understand the process fully. She commended the Minister’s recent speech.
Ms van der Walt asked if existing databases of duplicated names could assist in the present process. She was very concerned about the great number of streets without proper street names in townships. The Deputy Minister had misunderstood her when she had raised that matter in recent discussion. She objected especially to street names such as Native Yard (NY) followed by a number as she found these names were ‘extremely offensive’.
Mr Wakashe said that he had grown up in ‘NY11’. The Department was examining the matter of such offensive names. He agreed that he would make copies of the handbook available as requested.
The Chairperson asked about misleading road signs that gave conflicting versions of the name of the same place.
Ms van der Walt said that she reported such mistakes, whenever she came across them during her travels, and urged other Members to do so also. She objected to the display of the name of Makhado instead of Louis Trichardt before the court case had been concluded, unless Makhado was the name of a municipality. She said that as politicians the Committee Members should be vigilant about incorrect names. She had also reported errors with regard to Pietersburg, whose correct and official name was now Polokwane. She had complained, successfully, about the incorrect abbreviation ‘Intl’ in the name of O R Tambo International Airport, and the previous Arts and Culture Director-General had ensured that the road signs concerned were corrected.
The Chairperson said that it was very important, in considering proposals to change names, to take account of the meaning of names.
Mr Kubheka said that any proposed name changes having constitutional implications required the Minister’s referral to the President.
The Chairperson thanked the Department for a lively debate.
The meeting was adjourned.
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