Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Debate on renaming of streets and airports

I started a debate in my recent State of the Province Address about renaming streets and places in the Western Cape, specifically Cape Town. I would like to hear your views on my article 'Renaming our streets and airport is part of making the Western Cape a Home for All', published in the March 05 edition of the Cape Times. This is an edited version:

Often, the remark ‘we’re going back to South Africa’ can be heard on domestic flights out of Cape Town. Many of us who live in this province are quick to dismiss such comments. But many a truth, that old adage goes, is said in jest. The truth is that the Western Cape, specifically the ‘Mother City’, has long been seen by our fellow countrymen and women as not being a part of South Africa – and for good reason.

Almost thirteen years after the dawn of South Africa’s democracy, Cape Town and many other smaller towns in our province hardly have a single street of significance that reflects the heroes and architects of our freedom. In fact, in this Province we still live with the daily humiliation of Native Yards (NY1, etc, in Gugulethu) and boulevards named after those who gave us slavery, colonialism, religious bigotry and apartheid. This is not a black complaint. The Jewish community, too, cringe when Oswald Pirow, a Nazi sympathiser, is valourised. Surely enough time has passed to embark on a wide-ranging debate and campaign to find consensus on how to honour and memorialise the architects of freedom and democracy. When will we allow our children to engage with the legacies of patriots such as Autshumato, Sarah Baartman, Hilda Bernstein, Steve Biko, Molly Blackburn, Basil February, Imam Haron, Adam Kok, Alex La Guma, Chief Albert Luthuli, Sir Richard Luyt, Looksmart Ngudle, Dullah Omar, Gaby Shapiro, Christmas Tinto and many others?

I deliberately set out, in my State of the Province Address two weeks ago, to evoke debate on our failure to reflect the changes in our country and honour our heroes across the political divide. In this vein, on behalf of the ANC, I proposed that Cape Town International Airport should be renamed after a son of our Western Cape, James la Guma, a leader of the garment workers in the ICU, a leader against the Stuttaford Segregation Bill in 1939, a World War II veteran, a leader of the Coloured People’s Congress and the Communist Party. We submitted this proposal in humility to kick-start a necessary public engagement that will hopefully take us closer to the common values that bind us together as the people of the Cape and South Africa. Towards deepening this debate, we lined streets across the Western Cape with posters of such freedom loving patriots to bring them to public attention as we commend them to the people for honour. I am pleased to see that citizens of our province have been airing their views in the media and around dinner tables. Political parties are also agreeing on the need to honour those who stand out in our history as people who fought for a democratic South Africa.

I welcome the fact that Mayor Helen Zille and the Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Tony Leon have come out in favour of changing the names of our streets and airport. This support from the DA for our re-naming campaign means that, instead of dwelling on whether street- and place-names should be changed at all, we can now debate the detail. Leon’s suggestion that we consider naming the airport after Clements Kadalie, W. Schreiner or Abdullah Abdurahman is evidence that the debate is moving to another level. We are fortunate that in the DA opposition’s eagerness to embrace Taliep Petersen by renaming Keizergracht after him, they opened the door to a renaming process that up until now we thought they were implacably against. We would be the first to honour the likes of Helen Suzman, Anton Rupert and Colin Eglin because, regardless of where they stood in the battles against Apartheid, there can be no denying the goodness of these people. We will in the next few months seek to give every community, culture and group ownership over this Province so that we all see all our heroes and heroines reflected in our public spaces. There have also been objections along the lines that changing the name of the airport would confuse tourists. The same reactionary arguments were put forward by enemies of inclusivity to oppose the honouring of that great icon of our liberation struggle, Oliver Reginald Tambo. Pilots now proudly announce “welcome to OR Tambo International” to their passengers landing in Johannesburg. The simple point is that tourists travel to Cape Town the city, and not the airport.

The single objective driving this first African National Congress-led government is to make the Western Cape a ‘Home for All’, a province where we will all be able to live, work and play side-by-side in a united and sustainable environment. Having said that, I don’t think any other political party will contest the fact that this province must become a ‘Home for All’ if we are to overcome the legacy of Apartheid.

Whilst it may appear to us that the vision of a Home for All is elusive in the Western Cape and Cape Town, and whilst our fellow countrymen and women rightly point to our province’s lack of transformation, this is differently perceived by the rest of the world grappling with the hard challenges of migration, intolerance, religious fundamentalism, dogmatic certitude and economic marginalisation. In fact, many across the world look to the Western Cape for clues about how to deal with these twentieth century challenges associated with intensifying globalisation.

It is clear that whilst we have made some progress in building our ‘Home for All’, such as the rise of new, non-racial residential areas, there is still much work to be done. The legacy of the Group Areas Act and a host of Apartheid laws live on - it is for us to tackle these problems in a well-planned and sustainable way. The Western Cape is one of those parts of the country where Apartheid created particularly deep divisions between our communities. Uniting the people of this province through social and economic programmes which will make us all feel like we belong, that we are all have a future in this province. If we are to restore the dignity of our people and reply to those who mock the Western Cape’s lack of transformation more than a decade after the fall of Apartheid, the renaming of our streets and places without wasting any more time will bring us closer to a ‘Home for All’.