This piece was written by Durban freelancer Niki Moore back in June 2008. She mentions Moore Road being renamed as Che Guevara Road. I am reliably informed that the first new Che Guevara signs have just made their appearance. Allan Jackson.
I have survived armed robbery, I have survived affirmative action. I have survived bombs and riots and taxi violence. I have even survived load-shedding. But I don’t think I am going to survive name-changes.
Durban municipality this last week published the list of 99 streets that are going to have their names changed. I read this list with – at first – idle curiosity, as the entire name-changing process has only held a peripheral interest for me. What’s in a name, after all? But as I read the list I was overtaken by a growing sense of unreality. I kept checking the date on the paper to make sure it was not April 1st.
Whoever compiled this list of name changes has almost certainly stepped over the bounds of sanity and is peacefully grazing in the valleys on the other side. What could have been a wonderful opportunity to unite the entire city behind a series of adjustments has instead been turned into the biggest game of one-upmanship that I have yet to encounter.
Taking a very detached view of things, a few of these names are completely innocuous. We all need to honour people who made a contribution to Durban’s history and who up till now have been overlooked.
But most of these proposed names have – and have never had – any connection to Durban at all. (Swapo Road? Really? Swapo Road?? Can you really imagine naming the main road through the mink-and-manure Durban North Swapo Road?)
A lot of these people or groups have been fulsomely honoured in other cities where they lived or worked. Some of them are just plain difficult and unwieldy to pronounce. And there are some glaring omissions – Papa Sewgolum is the first one that springs to mind. There are many others.
I think what will really work people up is the fact that many of the existing names have really valid reasons for being there. But they are being replaced by names that are notable only for their sheer ridiculousness.
Let’s look at Moore Road. No-one appears to know who Moore was or why a road was named after him. Could have been named after me, for all I know. There does not appear to be anything offensive or objectionable about this Moore. But there would have been no problem if his/her name had been whipped away and substituted for some overlooked Durban luminary. However, these dotty councillors have decided to rename it Che Guevara Road.
So who was Che Guevara? He was a Cuban revolutionary, the gritty darling of the pot-smoking hippies of the 60s – mainly because his half-toned image looked so darn good on a T-shirt. He was Fidel Castro’s chief executioner, responsible for the murder of thousands. He was appointed Cuba’s Minister of Economics in 1960 – within months the Cuban Peso was worthless. A year later he was given the job of Minister of Industries and within a year Cuba’s industries had collapsed. (Actually, now that I think about it, and looking at the city management’s current trend, they’ve chosen quite an apt role model.) He wouldn’t even have known where Durban was – that is, if he even knew where Africa was. And the city father’s want to name a street after him? Puh-lease – what his link to Durban is I have no idea – unless it’s the pot.
However, I am feeling a sneaking sympathy for the councillors who have forced through these names: they reflect the deep-seated and indelible inferiority complex shared by all Marxists. All good Communist revolutionaries are terrified that the uneducated proletariat will forget about their glorious revolution in the daily hurly-burly of making money, and therefore they have to make sure that the great unwashed are reminded of them at every turn. This is why it is simply not good enough to have a Dadoo Street (which actually has a rather nice ring to it and will look good on a signpost). No – it has to be Dr Yusuf Dadoo Street, to prevent anyone thinking it’s another Dadoo , perhaps even – gods forbid! – that lazy layabout Yosemite Dadoo who ducked the Struggle and never finished matric.
And then there is the matter of what street names are for. I always thought that a street name was simply a way of defining an address. Sending a letter to “That big white house on the beachfront, you know, the one with the blue curtains, unless it is Monday when the curtains are being washed, then it’s the big white house without curtains, and the Beemer parked in front, unless its Tuesday when Madam goes shopping,” simply won’t do. The shorter and easier-to-pronounce a name, the better. So what’s wrong with a Dube Road? Nothing. Not bad. But Dr Langalibalele Dube? Try giving that address to your taxi driver at 2am when you have had a few. You won’t know when to stop.
This is how I have found myself living in the Dawn of the Glorious Revolution Crescent. It looks out over the Rates Will Not Be Increased To Pay For The Stadium Park, which regularly gets hit by lightning.
But perhaps there is a certain malevolent genius at work here: these outrageous full-length names are merely a feint – softening up the opposition in order to pave the way for Durban to be renamed Mikeville.
Not that I care much, actually. I am about to move to Sutcliffe’s End. It’s got a much better view.