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Perhaps we should consider the allocation of double names to historically disputed South African cities, says Stefan Gruner.
Pretoria - Concerning the renaming of towns, particularly Pretoria:
I come from Europe where towns have been renamed during the course of history – where it is, in fact, common practive.
In my home country, Germany, for example, the ancient Roman settlement of Ratispona became the German Regensburg.
But I get the impression that the plan to rename Pretoria is a deliberate act of symbolic expropriation, a gesture calculated to wipe out an unwanted part of factual history.
A related example from my own national background would be the deliberate renaming of Königsberg (in the former province of East Prussia) to the Russian, Kaliningrad after World War II, also with the intention of annihilating unwanted traces of history in a deliberate symbolic act of victor justice.
Moreover, it does not seem to be mere coincidence that the announcement in the press of Pretoria’s renaming has been made after, and not before, Nelson Mandela’s death.
A more reconciliatory manner of handling the matter could have been the allocation of double names to historically disputed South African cities.
For this, we can find several good examples in bilingual areas of Europe, too.
In the province of South Tyrolia in northern Italy, for example, all the towns have double names – German and Italian names.
In the officially bilingual Duchy of Wales, the city of Swansea is also recognised by its Welsh name, Abertawe, while the Austrian town of Bleiburg simultaneously carries the Slovenian name, Pliberk.
Thus, there is no rational reason cities should carry only single names in the “new” South Africa.
Double names, such as Tshwane/Pretoria, Polokwane/Pietersburg, Mashishing/Lydenburg are technically possible as we’ve seen in the European examples and they would certainly honour the spirit of reconciliation as exemplified by Madiba.
I can only hope that responsible members of the government will read this letter, which I am also writing, incidentally, with best wishes for a peaceful and prosperous New Year.
Stefan Gruner, Arcadia
* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.