Gqeberha — whose idea was it anyway?

A KwaMagxaki man, one Khoi and San chief, and a politician are behind the proposed name changes for Port Elizabeth, Uitenhage and the city’s international airport.

The recommendation by the Eastern Cape Geographical Names Committee that Port Elizabeth be renamed  Gqeberha has caused an uproar among residents over the past week, with a petition titled “Keep the name Port Elizabeth” being circulated on social media.

By Friday afternoon, it had about 19,000 signatures.

The other proposals  — Uitenhage to be named Kariega and the Port Elizabeth airport to be renamed after Khoi and San chief David Stuurman — have also not gone down well with some residents.

But the men who nominated the name changes — Boy Lamani of KwaMagxaki, former ANC MPL Christian Martin, and Khoi and San chief Mervyn Allies   — are adamant it is important not only for restorative justice, but to honour the Khoi, San and Xhosa people.

Lamani, who submitted the name Gqeberha to the Geographical Names Committee, said he had sent his nomination early in 2016, when Danny Jordaan was still mayor.

“Gqeberha  — which is the isiXhosa name for Walmer Township — is one of the first and oldest Port Elizabeth townships.

“Initially Walmer was called Gqeberha but because the Walmer name became prominent as industrialisation grew, Gqeberha lost its popularity.”

Lamani said the proposed name paid homage to respected Port Elizabeth families.

“Peter Mkata, John Masiza, Makhaya Jack and the Majola surname are just a few of the families that originated in Gqeberha,” he said.

Lamani said he was motivated to submit his recommendation  because the name Port Elizabeth had colonial origins.

Gqeberha is the Xhosa name for the Baakens River.

Khoi and San activist Martin, who proposed the new name for the airport, said the move would be a significant act of transformative justice.

Martin said one of the challenges faced by the Khoi and San people was that their history and language had not yet found full expression in SA’s heritage discourse and in its naming processes.

“More broadly, we face a societal challenge that the fragmented and divided past from which we emerged as a country still impacts on developing a sense of shared identity based on a shared history.

“Renaming the airport David Stuurman International Airport, after Stuurman, would undoubtedly promote a more inclusive and encompassing history upon which our sense of nationhood can be built.

“Additionally, it will provide many Khoi and San people with a role model and positive figure that gives meaning to their identity within a broader sense of SA nationhood,” Martin said.

Speaking on the economic benefits of the proposed name change, Martin said Stuurman was in a sense an international figure, and renaming the airport after him provided the province and country with the opportunity to develop routes that would promote cultural heritage.

Stuurman, who  rebelled against the Dutch and British colonialists and served time on Robben Island, was banished to New South Wales, Australia, in 1823.

He died in exile in Sydney in 1830.

Martin campaigned for Stuurman’s remains to be repatriated to SA, and they duly were, in 2017.

Allies, from Uitenhage, submitted his proposal two years ago and said renaming the town to Kariega was about restorative justice and that the name should reflect the original inhabitants.

“We preceded this area for a thousand years before anyone moved here.

“We don’t want to feel like people who come from the Hague, as if we come from the Netherlands.

“When we drive here we want to feel home — that we’re in Africa — and this name change would do that,” he said.

Allies described the founder of Uitenhage, Jacob Glen Cuyler, as one of the most brutal colonial masters.

“We can’t honour this man because he subjugated our people to the most atrocious human rights violations, put them in the wheel and incarcerated people.

“The entire region from Willowmore, Somerset East to Uitenhage was formerly called Kariega.

“Our ancestors called the Swartkops River, which is outside Uitenhage, the Kariega River,” he said.

The renaming process is still open to objections before the committee sends through its recommendations to arts and culture minister Nathi Mthethwa for a decision.

Former Bay resident Jackie Serfontein, who created a petition objecting to the Port Elizabeth name change, said her heritage also mattered in the SA landscape.

“I need the municipality to come out and acknowledge the voices of thousands of South Africans saying no more name changes.

“I might be in Cape Town, but I care about what happens to my hometown.

“I'm planning on moving back to Port Elizabeth and this city is also my heritage.

“Instead of money being used for the name changes, it could be used for building shelters for the homeless, because this [the name changes] will cost millions or rand,” Serfontein said.

The committee’s deputy chair, Zukile Jodwana, said the process could take up to six months, or even a year, depending on how many objections it received to the proposed name changes.

Jodwana said the standardisation of geographical names should be viewed within the context of a broader transformation agenda of government.

He said geographical place naming in the country could not be disconnected from its colonial history and this had been an integral part of establishing colonial control.

“This had led to the erosion and wiping out of indigenous names from the geographical landscape in the province and country.

“The names of Khoi and San have either been wiped out of the geographical landscape or corrupted.

“Indigenous people have always had their own way of referring to all features around them owning environmental, cultural and spiritual knowledge,” Jodwana said.

The cost of more than 300 years of colonial subjugation could not be quantified, he said.

The closing date for objections is December 6, and objections may be e-mailed to Chuma.Mfikili@ecsrac.gov.za, Linda.Zileni@ecsrac.gov.za and Mark.Mandita@ecsrac.gov.za

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