This writer applauds Arts Minister Nathi Mthethwa for reviving debate on SA name change. File Picture
OUR politically troubled times cry out for a fresh dialogue on varied critical questions that may help enhance the radical undoing of the brutal legacy of colonialism and apartheid, writes Sandile Ngidi.

I therefore applaud Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa’s boldness in reviving the debate on a possible name change for South Africa.

Such a debate is not only timely, given the brazen arrogance and dishonesty of those who continue to valourise colonialism, white supremacy and white monopoly capital.

Another reason why Mthethwa’s stance is laudable is because he’s raising an issue for which his party has shown no appetite over the years.

On the other hand, the PAC and the Black Consciousness Movement have long endorsed the idea of changing the colonial name of South Africa to the proposed name Azania. On June 16, 1976, when students set Soweto and the country on fire, it was under the banner of “a free Azania”.

The likes of Tsietsi Mashinini and Khotso Seathlolo went to the grave still firmly and unashamedly committed to the name Azania for a liberated South Africa.

The once powerful Azanian People’s Organisation also felt it appropriate to adopt the name Azania at its inception in 1978.

Slogans like, “One Azania, One Nation” became statements towards the birth of a radical new political order in South Africa. Recently, the Economic Freedom Fighters have also validated the name Azania – thereby acknowledging the unfinished business of our liberation.

The late Durban Black Consciousness stalwart and lawyer Imraan Moosa recently summed it thus: “Azania is radically different from the Republic of South Africa (“the Republic”).

The phrase “South Africa/Azania” is an abomination, as Azania is not merely a reference to the geographical space we occupy. The etymology of “Azania” lies in an extraordinary episode in our story, namely the Zanj Rebellion, which ranks easily among the largest slave rebellions hitherto experienced. The Zanj took over the Caliphate and maintained a marooned state for about 15 years.

In short, for the Azanian school, the name Azania would help locate our liberation within a broader quest for freedom dating back to the days of slavery beyond our shores.

The Zanj rebellion in AD 869-883 was a black slave revolt against the Abbasid empire which had enslaved many East African blacks into parts of Iran.

Undoubtedly, going the Azania way would markedly enhance South Africa’s missing pan-African soul, the full embracing of the continent and the African diaspora.

Should the ANC also endorse the name Azania (since they have no name after all), this would be a major symbolic gesture of unity for the broad liberation movement since the party that gave birth to Robert Sobukwe’s PAC split in 1959.

It is ironic that while the moral and political imperatives of fighting and destroying apartheid and colonialism were once clear when we were oppressed, in the democratic society, African nationalism has become a four-letter word.

If African nationalism was the principal pivot of our anti-imperialist struggle, sidelining this liberatory idea is repulsive and must be condemned.

Denying the legitimacy of African nationalism in South Africa today is tantamount to a denial of our history of land dispossession and dehumanisation, in the main, of Africans.

Asking why we should still hold on to a name that speaks to the wrenching and dehumanising history of colonialism and apartheid provides a golden opportunity for the liberated African majority to rewrite their history.

This key question is firmly in line with Amilcar Cabral’s assertion that “the foundation of national liberation lies in the inalienable right of every people to have their own history.”

Secondly, as Cabral continues to assert, “so long as imperialism is in existence, an independent African state must be a liberation movement in power, or it will not be independent.”

As South Africa’s political temperature heightens, factually and fictionally driven by a noble quest to combat corruption, we must begin to admit that our otherwise laudable political transition has, in the main, bitterly marginalised African nationalism and trivialised the national question.

The justified imperatives of national reconciliation and nation-building have over time delayed that golden opportunity in which Africans have to fully realise and embrace their Africanness.

It would now appear that for some South Africans, the country works well when the denialism of the racial, economic and class subjugation of the majority of citizens is normalised, if not celebrated.

Some significant others in this beautiful country demonise the permanent remembrance and appraisal of the violence of our recent past in our public discourse.

In line with the legitimate agenda to unashamedly express the African nationalist aspirations of the people, leaders in most parts of Africa changed their country’s names immediately after independence.

The “African Personality” – to use Kwame Nkrumah’s words – inspired the changing of names like Gold Coast to Ghana, South West Africa to Namibia, and Rhodesia to Zimbabwe.

As Mthethwa raises the issue of this country’s name, he is invoking the idea of Africans reclaiming their heritage and giving their history its desecrated African spirit.

This otherwise long-overdue question requires a Socratic examination on why the oldest liberation movement, the ANC, has over 23 years in power failed to aggressively decolonise South Africa.

Now that Mthethwa has revived the debate, it remains to be seen whether he will go ahead and start the process as his department has the right to do so.

Are we getting closer towards singing one Azanian love song?

* Sandile Ngidi is a poet and literary critic. Together with James Ngcobo and Hugh Masekela, he is developing a musical on the life and times of Winnie Nomzamo Madikizela-Mandela

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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