Gqeberha: Changing names is symbolism, nothing more and nothing less
It’s only 1 062km between Tweebuffelsmeteenskootmorsdoodgeskietfontein and Gqeberha, according to Google.
It should take you just over 13-and-a-half-hours to drive from the one to the other. Yet, this week, you’d have been forgiven for thinking it would be faster to get to Mars.
Tweebuffelsmeteenskootmorsdoodgeskietfontein is a farm in North West Province about 20km east of Lichtenburg. It’s famous for being the longest place in name, in South Africa. It’s probably one of the most difficult to get your tongue around for people who don’t speak Afrikaans.
Gqeberha was the name of the river that runs through Port Elizabeth, until Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa gazetted it as the new name of Port Elizabeth, along with a host of other new names for towns in the Eastern Cape – and all equally resplendent with Xhosa clicks.
Changing names is symbolism, nothing more and nothing less. As it was in 1948, when South Africa witnessed the first of what would be a wholesale raft of name changes – of institutions, buildings and places.
The outrage on social media over the latest changes has been fierce, especially by South Africans who still can’t be bothered to learn how to properly pronounce names, but instead, unilaterally, anglicise them.
Critics have asked what the point of changing names is, when the places formerly known as PE, Uitenhage, King Williamstown, Maclear and Berlin, are largely, if not entirely, dysfunctional. It’s a typical South African misdirection. The two aren’t related.
Granted. Changing the names won’t make them better managed. Only holding the officials and elected representatives to account will, but railing against a name change because Gqeberha is supposedly more of a tongue twister than Tweebuffelsmeteenskootmorsdoodgeskietfontein, speaks volumes about the complainant – and none of it’s good.
Maybe if we all band together to finally pronounce these names properly, we can find the common ground to fight against things that really affect us – municipalities being run into the ground and state capture.