'Street names must reflect Durban's history'

Published Oct 8, 2008


By Matthew Savides

Durban historians are concerned that eThekwini Municipality's renaming programme will result in the city's history being eroded.

Among the first 108 name changes are references to former city officials and military officers, units, buildings and events, as well as influential residents. Many of these date back to the 1850s.

The historians said the credentials of the old names should have been considered during the renaming process, and that people with significance to Durban should have replaced the old names. Professor Michael Laing said he had no problem with important people and events being commemorated, but that they should be remembered in the areas where the people had come from or where the events had taken place.

He said the decision to rename Point Road after Mahatma Gandhi was a bad one, not only because of the negative connotations of the Point area.

He suggested that it would have been better to have named the road from Mayville to 45th Cutting after Gandhi because he had lived there.

Similarly, Laing said Victoria Embankment could have been renamed after Ndongeni, a member of the Zulu Royal Household, and not ANC activist Margaret Mncadi.

Ndongeni rode with Dick King on horseback to Grahamstown to call for reinforcements when the Old Fort was under siege by Boers. Ndongeni did not complete the trip because of injury, but Laing said this was the perfect road to name after him because it was the route the two had taken out of Durban.

"If somebody wants to change a name, change it to something that makes sense. Name it after a person or something significant that happened in the area," he said.

Laing said early settlers, including the Moore and Davenport families, had "carved roads out of bush" in the areas where streets had been named after them. Yet these streets were being renamed after people with, in most cases, little significance to Durban.

Historian Ken Gillings expressed similar concerns, especially concerning some of the "neutral" names that were being changed.

An example is Brickfield (Felix Dlamini) Road.

This road led to fields where bricks were made early in Durban's development. This element of Durban's early business development would be lost because of the name change.

Other changes that Gillings and Laing were puzzled about where those of Broadway (Swapo) and Northway (Kenneth Kaunda), which were, respectively, originally named because of the width of the road and its direction.

"These names are simply an example of the heritage of eThekwini that is about to become obliterated at the stroke of a pen. There are many more and, in my opinion, the city authorities should take a leaf out of Singapore's book. It has capitalised on its colonial past and it has become an integral part of their tourism trade," Gillings said.

Former South African Military History Society of KZN chairperson Paul Kilmartin said some names should be changed, but that people who were "well-known people and strongly linked to Durban" should take preference.

An example was Major Edwin Swales, who fought in World War 2, in which he became the first South African to be certified master bomber.

"In every way, he was a freedom fighter. He gave his life to save the members of his crew.

"He is the only Durban-born man to win the Victoria Cross ... he is part of an honoured and elite group," Kilmartin said.

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