Sound and fury

Last week saw plenty of furious comment in the media about the current push by the city council to rename Durban Streets in bulk. The crisis has been building for some time with the ANC-dominated council bent on forcing through the changes to 98 streets on the one hand and, on the other, resistance from just just about every other shade of the political spectrum. There was drama when opposition councillors walked out of council meetings; at least one ANC councillor had water thrown in his face.

Long-term expatriates may not know that there has already been one round of name changes in which Victoria Embankment, Stanger Street, NMR Avenue, Point Road, Alice Street, Grey and Broad Streets, Commercial Road and the Northern Freeway got new names in a surprise move in April 2007.

I wrote this all up in the third edition of Facts About Durban, which you can order here, and I said that I appreciated that there was a genuine urge to rename roads and buildings to make Durban less of a contiuous reminder about the colonial era. I said I hoped that the process would end there but now it seems that the council is determined to impose another 98 changes on us and this is causing an enormous amount of ill-feeling.

There does not seem to be any sensitivity behind the process, with one example being Kingsway in Amazimtoti, which is slated to be named after executed bomber Andrew Zondo, who set off his bomb in that exact suburb, killing five and injuring more than 40. This in spite of the fact that Zondo’s father does not want the street to be named after his son.

Another almost unbelievable example is that Mangosuthu Highway, named after Dr Mangosuthu Buthelezi, former Home Affairs Minister of the Republic of South Africa, leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party, and hereditary prime minister of the Zulu nation, is to named after Griffiths Mxenge. If that’s not a slap in the face of the entire Zulu nation and other right-thinking persons, I don’t know what is.

The Sunday Tribune of June 1, 2008 has quite a long article on the subject of the renaming including a reported comment by city treasurer Krish Kumar, that the new street signs were to cost R700 each. This in a city where the potholes in the roads are proliferating and there is hardly a set of traffic lights with a full complement of working bulbs. Keeping on with the renaming is not only a bad idea for promoting reconciliation, but also a waste of resources needed elsewhere. And that’s not even mentioning the chaos when all those streets change their names at once.

I am not hopeful about the outcome of all this but there may be a just a possibility of avoiding some or all of the renaming. It seems that central government has noticed the problems we’re having down here. Arts and Culture Minister Pallo Jordan was reported by the Independent on Saturday of 31 May, 2008, as having said that name changes should only be be undertaken if an overwhelming majority of the community wanted them. Well, we’ll see…

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