Embarrassing meaning of 'eThekwini' revealed

By Heinz de Boer

The name eThekwini is to be consigned to history, but Durban will live on. That is the word from Mayor Obed Mlaba.

But he is on a mission to change the current "eThekwini" name for the whole metropolitan area because the name is embarrassing.

Mlaba said the meaning of eThekwini, which refers to the testicles of a bull and was the traditional name given to the shape of Durban bay, had caused him a fair amount of international embarrassment.

Mlaba was speaking after the tabling of the long-awaited policy document that will govern the roll-out of the second phase of street, building and natural landmark renaming.

Senior council officials are confident eThekwini will give way to the proposed new name, KwaKhangela, by the end of the year. Mlaba however reiterated that the city's name, Durban, would remain.

"If you unpack what eThekwini means, it just doesn't sound right. A lot of people overseas have asked: 'What does eThekwini mean?'.

Then you start saying, 'Well, you see, ummm, please pass me the milk for my tea' because you are not proud to unpack what it means," Mlaba said.

"But also, KwaKhangela is the name the royal King Shaka gave to this region when his military training ground was where the University of KwaZulu-Natal is now situated. It means 'watch out (for any attackers)', so as a military person he saw this part of the world being very strategic," he said.

And although tight lipped on when the new name may be adopted, Mlaba said the change would "come out" of the policy document adopted on Tuesday.

Opposition parties were concerned that the ruling ANC planned to do away with the name "Durban", but Mlaba said that had never been the intention. Durban was the name of the city, while KwaKhangela referred to the metropolitan municipal area.

Tuesday's executive committee meeting, at which the report was tabled, also marked what appeared to be the first tentative steps from the ANC and DA to pull together in finalising the process.

This after the ANC, in an almost unheard of display of co-operation, agreed to DA caucus leader John Steenhuisen handing in a supplementary document correcting the more than 40 spelling and grammatical mistakes in the renaming policy document.

Mlaba had minutes earlier objected to the document being handed in for consideration, saying that Steenhuisen's proposals should rather have been tabled at the Masakhane Committee that is spearheading the renaming process.

Calls for the policy document to be deferred by a week were then met by stiff opposition from the ANC and DA, who ultimately agreed that City Manager Dr Michael Sutcliffe and committee chairperson Zandile Gumede would scrutinise and implement suggestions that will not impact on the policy outline.

The DA has also thrown its support behind the almost 700 public proposals to change, abbreviate or grammatically improve the spelling of geographic landmarks. Steenhuisen, however, warned of the danger in changing the names of strategic tourist towns, including Umhlanga and Durban.

"A lot of it is correcting the anglicised spelling and making it the phonetically correct Zulu and Xhosa. However, we have a problem with the changing of names like Umhlanga Rocks because of the huge investment the city has made in the last 50 years in marketing it as a local and continental tourist destination.

Our Durban Africa and 2010 campaigns need to be considered. Ideally these names should only be changed after 2010," Steenhuisen said.

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