Name debate irks families

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jan smuts drive INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS Dullar Omar's family prefers for Jan Smuts Drive to be renamed after him. Photo: Cindy Waxa

The battle lines have been drawn between two prominent SA families as the descendants of Jan Smuts and the family of Dullah Omar clash over the renaming of Jan Smuts Drive.

Omar’s family want Jan Smuts Drive to be renamed for him, but the Smuts family are adamant that another road can be found for Omar and that the Smuts name must remain.

Both families are petitioning Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille.

Both Omar and Smuts were politicians and lawyers.

Smuts was an internationally recognised statesman.

Omar, who died of cancer in 2004, fought in the Struggle seeking equal rights for all South Africans, and was instrumental in setting up the United Democratic Front.

He was also a key minister in the new SA.

On Monday, Smuts’s granddaughter, Katusha de Kock, said the family was distressed at the thought that the Omars and the ANC wanted Jan Smuts Drive renamed for the Struggle hero.

Meanwhile, the Omars and the ANC are livid at the latest city plan to rename Vanguard Drive, rather than Jan Smuts Drive, for Omar.

The Vanguard Drive option was proposed during a public participation process.

According to the city, a proposal by an expert panel during the public participation process to rename part of Jan Smuts Drive after Omar met with overwhelming opposition.

After the Omar family declined the Vanguard Drive renaming, De Lille referred the process back to the street renaming committee for further deliberation.

De Kock likened her grandfather to Nelson Mandela, saying: “He put the country on the map and was a great son of SA.

“It is a pity that names of historical people in this country are being wiped out left, right and centre. Historical names should not be expunged.”

De Kock added that she was not suggesting Omar should not be honoured in this way, “but why not Vanguard Drive or Newlands Avenue?”

It was “tragic that people who have done a lot to put SA on the world map should have their names wiped out”.

She would be contacting De Lille to express her family’s views.

But Omar’s sister, Latifa, said renaming Jan Smuts Drive was not something the family had instigated. It had come out of a city process.

She also accused De Kock of stretching the truth by saying Smuts had put SA on the map.

“There is no comparison between what Smuts was and what Dullah was. He was in the Struggle and Smuts was part of the apartheid regime.”

Omar had fought for equality for all South Africans, not only for a select group, she said.

“They are entitled to their views. But I do not agree with her comparison of Jan Smuts and Nelson Mandela.”

Julia Smuts, a distant relative of Jan Smuts, submitted a lengthy submission to the city in support of retaining the name.

“I gave them historical information. Jan Smuts was an international figure. At no stage was he a proponent of apartheid. He lost the election in 1948 to the National Party because they were running on the apartheid ticket,” she said yesterday.

The mayoral committee member for transport, roads and stormwater, Brett Herron, said the entire committee, including ANC councillors, had voted for Vanguard Drive to be renamed in Omar’s honour.

“The naming committee has not met again and I cannot pre-empt what might happen with this proposal if and when the mayor refers the matter back to the naming committee,” he said.

Figures in SA’s history

Former cabinet minister Dullah Omar was an activist and advocate during apartheid SA.

As a human rights advocate Omar represented the PAC and the ANC in court and became Nelson Mandela’s spokesman in the last few months of Mandela’s incarceration.

His political awareness was forged at Trafalgar High and he became a member of the New Unity Movement before heading up the United Democratic Front. There were two attempts on his life, he was repeatedly jailed, and his passport was confiscated for a decade.

He was also provincial chairman of the ANC.

Omar is seen as having transcended racial boundaries and built bridges between communities.

After the 1994 elections he was appointed justice minister and he set up the National Prosecuting Authority and the Scorpions. Thabo Mbeki appointed Omar as transport minister.

Omar died of cancer in 2004.

Jan Smuts was a politician, world-renowned statesman, soldier, naturalist and philosopher, and was twice prime minister of SA.

He espoused racial segregation, a forerunner to apartheid. He felt blacks should not have political power, while one of his priorities was to reconcile the English and the Afrikaners.

Before entering politics he practised as an advocate in Cape Town.

With Louis Botha he formed the Het Volk Party. He became premier in 1919 and in 1939, under Barry Hertzog, when Hertzog wanted to remain neutral during World War II.

Smuts, who had a close affinity with Cape Town, helped draft constitution of the League of Nations, the forerunner of the UN.

He died in 1950.

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Cape Argus


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