“…But he that filches from me my good name

Robs me of that which not enriches him

And leaves me poor indeed. “

William Shakespeare. Othello


It must be regarded as something of a momentous occasion for the SAGNC to hold a sitting in our City and we welcome you.  It is an indication of the importance that the SAGNC attaches to the issue of the proposal to change the name of one of the country’s oldest and most historic cities.

Today you are meeting with objectors to that proposal and tomorrow you will be holding another meeting of your own.  We haven’t been told but we suspect that the purpose of the meeting will be to make a decision on whether or not to recommend to the Minister that Grahamstown’s name should be changed to Makhanda.

One hopes that that decision has not already been made and that today’s meeting is not just a sop in order to be able to give the appearance that you are still deliberating on the matter and in order to be able to say at the end of the day that you engaged with the objectors and took our objections seriously.

The fact of the matter is, however, that given the background of what has unfolded since the issue of Grahamstown’s proposed name change first arose in 2007, the likelihood is that the decision has already been made and today’s meeting is really only a sop.

Since 2007, the SAGNC’s Eastern Cape arm, the ECPGNC, has consistently been on record as saying that all colonial names must go and a “dirty dozen” of such names was identified with Grahamstown at the top of the list.

Since 2007 the ECPGNC has therefore made no bones about the matter and where it stands on the issue of Grahamstown’s name and its motherbody the SAGNC could not have been unaware of the fact.  Was the SAGNC in fact not prompting the ECPGNC?

We then went through not one, not two, but three full public consultation processes that were conducted by our local authority in conjunction with the ECPGNC the purpose of which was clearly intended to deliver on the desired and predetermined outcome that the name of Grahamstown be changed.

But notwithstanding the considerable resources that were employed to deliver on that outcome it didn’t happen.  To the surprise and dismay of the ECPGNC (and probably the SAGNC) the people of Grahamstown said they saw no reason for the change and they made it clear that they didn’t want the change.

As I have said, that happened on not one, not two, but on three occasions and it meant that our local authority and the ECPGNC were not able to recommend the name change to the SAGNC because they had failed the first test:  to be able to demonstrate that there was significant public support for the name change.

And so in late 2015/early 2016, the ECPGNC decided to take matters into its own hands and to fast-track a new so-called “process”.  It held a single meeting, in a single part of the community attended by fewer than 100 persons (+-87) which decided that Grahamstown’s new name should be changed and that the new name should be Makhanda.  As easy as that!

The ECPGNC then called for objections which had to be submitted by early June 2016 and to which those who are present at today’s meeting (as well as the other objectors who are not able to attend or who were not invited to do so) responded.

Only in late November 2017 (ie less than three months ago) did the ECPGNC respond to those objections.  In other words, the ECPGNC sat on our objections for eighteen months and only came up with its response almost two years after that meeting of early 2016 to which I have referred.

So late was the response of the ECPGNC that it was not even the response of the same ECPGNC which had held the meeting and which had called for and received objections.  That was done by the former ECPGNC and the response was made by the current, newly-appointed ECPGNC under the Chairpersonship of Ms Nazo-Makatala (“Pam Nazo”), a Buffalo City Councillor and ardent anti-colonial name campaigner.

Ms Nazo’s response did not deal with the objections individually but rejected them all collectively under four sub-headings:  socio-economic considerations; business and economic considerations; precedent considerations and miscellaneous considerations.  And she contemptuously dismissed all the arguments raised by the objectors in insulting terms even going so far as to say that there was something in them that “smacks of racism.”

Surely, if Ms Nazo and her ECPGNC were not so hell-bent on changing the name, they should have engaged with objectors as the SAGNC is purporting to do today instead of dealing with them in such a discourteous manner?  But they didn’t.

The invitation to today’s meeting was only received by some objectors on 30 January.  Other objectors have only received their invitations more recently and yet others have never been invited, while some objections of which we are aware were never acknowledged or responded to by the ECPGNC.  There are also a multitude of other would-be objectors out there who are not represented here today.

The invitation was also unclear on what the meeting was about.  All it said is that the meeting was to “verify certain facts”.  Only after a number of enquiries for more information was an email received from Mr Trueman Khubeka on Monday (three days ago) explaining that “stakeholders” will be given an opportunity to present their objections and to answer “clarity seeking questions” from the SAGNC representatives.  But that explanation was only addressed to some of the objectors and so not every objector knows what is expected of them today.

Speaking for the KGG which represents the largest collective body of objectors to the proposed name change (more than 5000), we are not prepared to be put in the dock and to have to present or explain our objections.

Our opposition to the proposed name change has been fully and repeatedly explained in correspondence with the ECPGNC, the SAGNC and, recently, directly to the Minister of Arts & Culture.  That correspondence and our objection speaks for itself and requires no further motivation or explanation.  Likewise, we believe that the same applies to the other individual objections that were forwarded to the ECPGNC long ago and which the ECPGNC so belatedly responded to and rejected.

The onus is not on those opposing the proposed name change to justify their objections.  The onus is on those proposing the name change to make out a convincing case for the name change based on the results of a proper public consultation process.

That is an onus which the SAGNC and the ECPGNC are clearly trying to avoid because the public consultation “process” on which you rely:  a single meeting in one part of the City attended by fewer than 100 persons, was hopelessly deficient and falls well below the standard of what constitutes a proper public consultation process as set by the Supreme Court of Appeal in the matter of the Chairperson’s Association versus The Minister of Arts & Culture and Others (the “Louis Trichardt” case).

That is what your decision on Grahamstown’s proposed name change turns on and not on the question of whether or not there is substance to the objections.

There is only one sensible decision that the SAGNC can reach on this issue and that is not to recommend the proposed name change because the ECPGNC did not conduct a proper public consultation process and it has not been convincingly demonstrated that there is sufficient public support for the change.  Another reason is that the ECPGNC ignored the outcomes of the previous three complete public consultation processes and has provided no information to the SAGNC in that connection.

There is no point, in our view, of continuing the meeting further.  It would be better if the SAGNC was left to deliberate on its decision.

As a final word, however, we would like to leave you with a quotation: “Geographical names are part of the historical, cultural and linguistic heritage of the nation which it is more desirable to preserve than to destroy.”

The SAGNC should recognise the quotation as it is one of the key guidelines contained in your own Handbook on Geographic Names (at p.6).

There are few South African names to which the guideline applies more forcefully than that of the 206 year old Grahamstown which commemorated its bi-centenary under that name in 2012, five years after the proposed name change was first mooted.

In conclusion, it is also necessary to refer to our sacred South African Constitution.  The Preamble of the Constitution proclaims that South Africa “belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.”  It also enjoins us to promote reconciliation.  The position of the KGG from the beginning in 2007 has been that keeping the name Grahamstown alongside that of Makana as the name of the greater local municipality is reconciliatory.  That was the positive message of our pamphlets in English and Xhosa.  On the other hand, removing the name Grahamstown is not reconciliation, it is retaliation and retribution – the opposite of reconciliation.

The SAGNC has the responsibility in terms of the SA Constitution and the principles contained in its own Handbook to promote reconciliation by making the right decision that the name of Grahamstown should be retained.

Thank you.

“Makana + Grahamstown = Reconciliation/Rekonsiliasie/Luxolelwaniso”