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What's in a Name?

 article about Names and their meanings
When the first truly democratic election in South Africa in 1994 was
won by the African National Congress (ANC) and Nelson Mandela stepped
into the Presidential position after many long years of isolation on
Robben Island, everyone was pretty sure that things were set for a big
change. But none expected to go to bed in one place and wake up in
another Yet millions did.

Historically, South Africa has been
host to a vast number of nationalities and cultures. Before officially
colonized in 1652 by the Dutch explorer Jan van Riebeeck, it was home
to a large number of black nations. Yes, nations. Not tribes, as many
may think, but nations. They had their own cultures, their own
languages and -- fairly often -- partook in the age old tradition of
killing each other, much like their European counterparts. They also
mostly arrived here from elsewhere (being Central Africa) and took over
vast tracts of land from the San people.

And then along came
the Dutch, with the English and French not far behind. In short, before
long what was going to be little more than a way station at the
southern tip of the Dark Continent became a country flooded by a huge
diversity of cultures. History happened and we get to the fateful 1994
elections some way down the track.

After the elections and the
shift in the power balance of the country from minority to majority,
one of the first adjustments made to the laws of the country was to
re-evaluate the official languages spoken in South Africa. It went from
two being English and the Dutch derived Afrikaans to eleven. Yep, count
them -- Eleven: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Xhosa, Zulu, Sepedi (or
Northern Sotho), Sotho Tswana, Swazi, Venda and Tsonga. This caused
something of a system shock, especially to the public television
broadcaster, who now faced the nightmare of producing daily news
broadcasts in all the languages listed. Of course, these languages all
held historical significance. Notably, the San language is
conspicuously absent from the list. It does appear on the new national
coat of arms as the motto (!ke e: /xarra //ke) but no one can pronounce
what it says. Perhaps thats why San isnt an official language. And the
changes did not end there

South African coat of arms


As with most countries that were once colonies of European nations, a
fervent desire to reidentify the country broke out. The quickest method
to do this was, obviously, changing place names other than getting a
new flag, of course. Genocide was another option and, being a white
South African, I am very happy to say that it was a path not decided
on. But I digress. Back to new names for old places. One night the
residents of Pretoria, the capital city went to bed, only to wake up
the next morning strangely relocated to a place called Swane which
still looked a hell of a lot like Pretoria, strangely enough. I used to
drive along D F Malan drive to get to work, and almost got lost when it
was suddenly called Beyers Naude drive. I had to supply all my friends
with old directions with new names to reach my house.

And
while everyone was trying to get used to the new official place and
street names (which costs millions of Rands to change, while people
living in those places still resided in corrugated iron shacks) some
bright spark went and changed the slang right under their feet.


Johannesburg, for example (which remarkably escaped the name change
craze that erupted shortly after the elections) was always nicknamed
Joburg by the white population and Egoli (place of gold) by the black
population, suddenly got called Jozi. From out of the blue. Of course,
the stubborn attitude shared by Johannesburg residents means that the
city now has four names, instead of just three.

Every day we
hear a new name on the news. Every day people wake up somewhere new. In
fact, at one stage people woke up in a whole new province. See, South
Africa used to have four provinces Transvaal, Natal, Cape Province and
the Orange Free State. After the election, that number more than
doubled, becoming Gauteng, Kwazulu-Natal, Free State, Northern
Province, North West Province, Northern Cape (which happens to be west
of the North West Province) Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga.
Talk about confusion. In fact, a couple of political scuffles ensued
with certain towns and districts trying to get their official province
changed. These were mostly resolved peacefully although, being that
these areas were largely rural, I am sure a few goats and cows suffered
severe mental scarring.

Most of this happened ten years ago, of
course, and the renaming frenzy has calmed down for the most part.
There are still occasional name changes that sneak up on the unwary
residents of the area and jump on them like a polysyllabic leopard. But
for the most part the government is settling down and letting people
cope with this geographical hopscotch. There are other things to do
(like send a significant part of our military forces on peace keeping
missions to the rest of Africa) and besides, they had to wait for a few
more dignitaries to die off before they could come up with new street
names. As a matter of fact, shortly after the death of the minister of
transport, Mr Dullah Omar, it was announced that Jan Smuts Avenue would
be renamed to Dullah Omar Avenue not really a fitting tribute, because
the avenue in question is full of potholes and is almost constantly in
a state of traffic jam.

All of this can be directly related to
a nation trying to find its identity. And keep in mind that its a
nation made up of a whole bunch of other nations (hence the wide array
of official languages.) South Africa is still, after ten years of
democracy, finding its feet it will be a lot easier to do, though, if
they stop changing the name of the place youre standing in. Now all I
need to do is figure out where exactly Polokwane is it might explain
what happened to my friends living in Pietersburg.



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