A senior government official has stoked up the debate on place names by suggesting that South Africa should be renamed Azania.

Professor Itumeleng Mosala, director-general of the Department of Arts and Culture, said the official position of the ANC government was to leave the country's name unchanged, but his view was that "Azania is a much better name".

He also suggested the incorporation of Natal in the provincial name KwaZulu-Natal was "culturally problematic", and said there appeared to be a reticence to change names and reclaim cultural identities subjugated by colonialism.

Mosala, a former president of the Azanian Peoples' Organisation, was in Durban on Friday to deliver a presentation on place names policy at the International Cartographic Conference.

Mosala stressed that his view on renaming South Africa was personal and not government policy, but said the underlying cultural objections to the renaming of Pretoria as Tshwane seemed to be masked by complaints that it would be costly, both administratively and for companies changing stationery.

Asked to comment on the international branding ramifications of name changes such as Peking / Beijing and Bombay/Mumbai, Mosala said the perceived negative influences for investment and branding had not been tested empirically.

"Zimbabwe used to be Rhodesia. Harare used to be Salisbury - but most people have forgotten those names now. I wonder whether we give enough credit to the intelligence of the world on this issue... because a name can be changed in no time. Economic and financial implications should be taken into account when changing place names, but they should also not be an obstacle.

"We think South Africa has to become an African country, and that the freedom of our people won't be completed until we also seize our cultural freedoms."

Mosala said changing city and place names should be driven by communities and not by the government, but suggested that the 10th anniversary celebrations of democracy next year could be an opportune time to make further name changes.

He said his department hoped to initiate a debate to explore whether the wider public was politically uninterested in changing place names, or whether the government had failed to market the issue sufficiently.

  • To give people the chance to suggest name changes online, visit the department website