By Heinz de Boer
Durban's street renaming exercise should inspire debate and help rekindle interest in South Africa's turbulent history and those people who helped shape the country.
So says the man at the centre of the recent renaming controversy, city manager Michael Sutcliffe, who on Wednesday clarified how residents can better make their voices heard before the June 23 deadline for community comment and objections.
Although council has thus far received in excess of 15 000 comments and objections to proposals for the renaming of 181 streets, investigations by Sutcliffe have revealed that more than 5 000 of these were submitted by a handful of disgruntled residents and a marketing company that had jumped on the bandwagon.
The remaining 10 000 comments were largely composed of photocopied petitions and repetitive email messages that merely objected to the renaming process and contained no substantial motivation.
While Sutcliffe on Wednesday said these forms of objection would be catalogued and included in his report to the Masakhane Committee, the "specifics" would help the municipal task team, Masakhane Committee and a full sitting of council better understand how the public felt.
Council's final decision on the current renaming proposals and any future suggestions will also be governed by a set of street name guidelines adopted in 2001, which yesterday came under fire from opposition parties during the full council meeting.
Sutcliffe was quick to point out that the guidelines would equally apply to new renaming proposals that the public was welcome to submit in the weeks leading up to June 23.
Once the process of dealing with the 181 name proposals have been dealt with, the public will have the opportunity to make further name change proposals at a local level.
"There are three main categories we are looking at which include the renaming of streets, in particular those in the Durban and Pinetown CBD, large roads that link areas and localised residential roads. Much of the confusion over renaming has come from misinformation that has been spread by people who should know better," Sutcliffe said.
Asked about his feelings on the thousands of almost pointless emails that were received, Sutcliffe said he was "not angry" at the senders, but rather sad that people were unwilling to accept different points of view.
"Many of the people, whose names were proposed, are those of outstanding South Africans who were poets, lawyers and community workers. Hopefully people will now start reading up on these people and the contribution they made to society," Sutcliffe said.