Name change divides South Africans

news: Name change divides South Africans

A RECOMMENDATION to rename South Africa’s capital has been unanimously approved. Pretoria will now be known as Tshwane as part of a wider move to give cities African names.

Tshwane is the name of a pre-colonial local chief and means “we are the same”. Supporters of the change said the switch would underscore South Africa’s break with the past, bearing in mind Pretoria was named after Boer settler and Afrikaner hero, Andries Pretorius. Afrikaners then went on to create the hated apartheid system, which ended when the country held multi-racial elections in 1994.

Recently, hundreds of white South Africans staged a demonstration against the change, alleging that the move undermined the cultural traditions of the Afrikaner community. But the national agency responsible for name changes in South Africa, the Geographical Names Council, said there was no evidence that anyone would be affected by the renaming.

Some Afrikaners may be incensed but the reality is that nobody pays much attention to their views anymore. If there’s one group of people that has been excoriated worldwide it’s white South Africans and, in particularly, Afrikaners. The architects of apartheid were synonymous with oppression and evil. We remember P W Botha, the humourless ‘Great Crocodile’ who defied the international community and its sanctions in the 1980s while police rounded up political opponents. We also recall Afrikaner extremists who vowed to stand up to Botha’s replacement, the ‘liberal traitor’ FW De Klerk, and redeposit Nelson Mandela on Robben Island after his release in 1990.

British television focused on the fascistic elements within the Boer community, particularly the Afrikaner Resistance Movement under the helm of the bible-bashing, hard-drinking Eugene Terreblanche. The neo-Nazi tag was easily hung around the movement, especially as their uniforms and emblems were similar to other Nazi organisations and their ancestors supported Hitler. First feared, then something of a national joke after he fell off his horse, Terreblanche vowed to resist the “total onslaught” of Communism that he and his supporters felt was synonymous with black majority rule. They held public rallies, screamed abuse at Mandela and white moderates…and went home to watch the rugby. At the 1994 election, they planted a few bombs and assaulted some blacks, but then gradually disappeared, re-emerging only to testify before the Truth and Reconciliation Committee.

Now, the so-called ‘die-harders’ are regarded as ‘dinosaurs’, reduced to fighting what some people would see as relatively puny battles over issues such as the Pretoria name change.

In contrast, the black power struggle was supported without qualification. Iconic figures such as Steve Biko, the young activist murdered in a South African jail in 1976, epitomised the subjugation of black people to their white supremacist rulers. Mandela himself is venerated almost to an impossible extent for his stoicism in surviving 26 years in jail and his extraordinary lack of bitterness on release. The western media generally disregarded his Communist background and friendships with dubious despots such as Gaddafi and Suharto.

Perhaps, post-apartheid, we should understand more of the fears of the white South-African community. Most Afrikaners are not Nazis or white supremacists, but they do want to preserve their own culture. Minorities, in general, feel threatened and overwhelmed. The whites in South Africa are outnumbered in their country and, naturally enough, a minuscule minority on the continent of Africa. There were more than 1,500 murders of white farmers in South Africa between the end of apartheid in 1994 and 2003. Latest figures show it is more dangerous to be a white farmer in South Africa than in neighbouring Zimbabwe, where political violence and government policy has driven many white farmers off their land. Speaking of Zimbabwe, can whites in South Africa be blamed for thinking that this offers an inkling of life 10 or 15 years from now?

Afrikaners have been in South Africa since the 17th century. When they arrived they found a vast, uncivilised wilderness. They were the ones with the skills, the pathfinders, the entrepreneurs, the builders and the engineers. In 1948, the National Party undermined itself and its people by creating an Afrikaner state reliant on cheap labour from a dispossessed and disenfranchised black majority. Perhaps if they had opted for total separation, or created an autonomous confederated system of self-government, the world would not have blinked. Or at least the outside world might have lived with it as it has done by and large with Israel. Now their language, Afrikaans, is dying out, their culture is being eroded and their ‘heroes’ erased from history.

“What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet,” wrote a famous playwright. True enough, but names can also symbolise the history of a proud people. Andries Pretorius had nothing to do with apartheid and the Afrikaners are entitled to have their contribution to the country honoured.