“We can market a festival in Makhanda as easily as we can one in Grahamstown,” says National Arts Festival CEO Tony Lankester. A day after Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa’s approval of the change of Grahamstown’s name to Makhanda was announced in the Government Gazette on Friday 29 June, the Festival’s Facebook tag changed from ‘National Arts Festival Grahamstown’ to ‘National Arts Festival Makhanda’.
“Our view is that, from the Festival’s perspective, we’ll work with whatever name we have to work with,” Lankester told Grocott’s Mail. “South Africans tend to refer to us colloquially as the ‘Grahamstown Festival’. I’m sure that, in time, the name ‘Makhanda Festival’ will gain similar traction, and we will be part of the push to make the name recognisable to visitors and potential visitors.”
South African Geographical Names Council Chairperson Johnny Mohlala told Grocott’s Mail that the timing of the gazetting at the start of the National Arts Festival was coincidental and said people’s dignity and the forging of a national identity were at the heart of the name-change impetus.
However, anti-name change campaign Keep Grahamstown Grahamstown says the recommendation by the Eastern Cape Provincial Geographic Names Committee (ECPGNC) and SAGNC, and the Minister’s decision, ignore public opinion on the issue. In a statement issued last weekend, campaign co-ordinators Jock McConnachie and Sigudlo Ndumo, said the decision was in conflict with the Constitution, and indicated “a spirit of retribution rather than reconciliation”.
They have addressed a formal complaint to Mthethwa and have criticised him and the SAGNC for giving the impression, as widely reported, that by publication of the name change in the Government Gazette the name change was final.
“By law the Minister is required to consider all objections before making a final decision on the matter and must also provide reasons for accepting or rejecting the objections,” KGG said. “Until then the name of Grahamstown remains Grahamstown.”
KGG said they had pointed out to the Minister that the Notice was defective in that it contained no reference to Section 10 of the South African Geographic Names Act No.118 of 1998 in terms of which persons who are opposed to the name change have the right to object to the name change within a period of one month after the date of publication. The Notice also provided no address to which objections can be addressed, they said in a second statement issued this week.
Nowhere in South Africa had the process to change the name of a place been as intensive as in Grahamstown, Mohlala told Grocott’s Mail.
He presided at an emotionally charged objectors’ meeting at the Albany Museum earlier this year. Hearing arguments were members of the SAGNC from across the country. The Council is made up of 15-25 members and Mohlala said about 12 were present at the 15 February meeting.
Mohlala interacts with Mthethwa as a member of the Ministerial Task Team for Transformation of the Heritage Landscape. A day after the February meeting in Grahamstown, Mohlala vowed to speak in his personal capacity to the Minister to make a decision.
Colonel John Graham, after whom Grahamstown is named, commanded the forces of the British colonial project in the Eastern Cape that included a series of military campaigns to subjugate the amaXhosa. Makhanda was a Xhosa prophet and resistance leader who led an attack on the British garrison at Egazini, at the city’s south-western edge, in 1819.
One of the name change’s earliest proponents, historian Julie Wells, said she counted her participation in the name change debates of 10 years as one of the most interesting tasks she had ever observed as a historian.
“A series of roadshows… introduced audiences to what the whole idea was about and then presented a summary of the leading options,” Wells said. Names considered were Egume (the city’s earliest name), Rhini and Makhanda. “People felt [Makhanda] had value in its own right, underscoring one of the most important events that the city is famous for, the battle of Grahamstown,” Wells said.
The Grahamstown Residents Association said they had taken no position on name change other than that the process be defensible. “Our membership has the full range of views – from support through preferring to focus on service delivery to opposing,” said chairperson Philip Machanick.
In a statement issued on the day his approval was gazetted, Mthethwa spoke of symbolic reparation to address an unjust past, as promoted by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
He said a South Africa town shouldn’t be named after a man “whose name is captured in history as being the most brutal and most vicious of the British commanders on that frontier”.
“In South Africa it has been standard practice to change names which are not in line with the letter and spirit of the Constitution,” Mthethwa said.
Matters of fact
Mthethwa in his 29 June statement, includes the often cited phrase ‘a proper degree of terror’ to emphasise the violence of the frontier wars. Like many, he attributes the phrase to Colonel John Graham “whose name is captured in history as being the most brutal and vicious of the British commanders on that frontier, whose campaigns were executed with – in his own words – ‘A proper degree of terror’.”
The phrase gained popular use among first cultural activists, then politicians, because it was the title of a book published in 1986, written by journalist and history researcher Ben Maclennan, A proper degree of terror: John Graham and the Cape’s Eastern Frontier. The author, asked by Grocott’s Mail to comment on the use of the phrase in support of arguments for the name change, said, “A small correction: Graham conducted only one campaign on the frontier, not ‘campaigns’.
“A big correction: the ‘proper degree of terror’ quote comes not from Graham, but from Graham’s boss, the governor and military commander of the Cape, Sir John Cradock. Who, coincidentally, also has a South African town named after him.
“For brutality and viciousness among British commanders, I’d put my money not on Graham but on Harry Smith.”
GRAHAMSTOWN TO MAKHANDA
STATEMENTS ON THE 29 JUNE 2018 GAZETTING OF ARTS AND CULTURE MINISTER NATHI MTHETHWA’S APPROVAL FOR THE CHANGE
Keep Grahamstown Grahamstown Campaign (KGG)
Submit your objections to the Minister within 30 days
Keep Grahamstown Grahamstown (KGG) notes with astonishment the decision of the Minister of Arts Culture, Mr Nathi Mthethwa, to Gazette the name change of Grahamstown to Makhanda.
The Minister’s statement announcing the decision is riddled with factual errors as regards the process which led the South African Geographic Names Council (SAGNC) to recommend the name change to the Minister, and the notice is itself fatally defective.
The decision is also in conflict with the SA Constitution in that is motivated by a spirit of retribution rather than reconciliation. It also contradicts one of the SAGNC’s own key guiding principles that existing names should not be changed but should rather be retained as part of the nation’s cultural fabric.
The latest process which culminated in the SAGNC’s decision to recommend the name change was not conducted in conjunction with the local municipality as the statement claims but was conducted independently of the local municipality by the Eastern Cape Provincial Geographic Names Committee (ECGPNC).
It was also not a proper process in that it comprised a single meeting in a single venue attended by fewer than 100 persons representing one small section of the community.
The statement also refers to “public engagements” conducted by the local municipality since 2012. In fact three thorough public consultation processes were conducted by the Makana local authority in conjunction with the ECPGNC between 2007 and 2012 and the outcome of each of those processes was overwhelmingly not in favour of changing the name of Grahamstown.
This led the ECPGNC, in pursuit of its stated mission to change all colonial names throughout the Eastern Cape, to take matters into its own hands by conducting its own fast-track “process” from late 2015.
In doing so the ECPGNC acted completely independently of the local municipality contrary to what is claimed in the statement.
By so doing, the ECPGNC and the SAGNC ignored the decision of the Supreme Court of Appeal on the issue of the renaming of Louis Trichardt to Makado which clearly defined what constitutes a proper consultation process.
The manner in which the latest “process” was conducted by the ECPGNC and the SAGNC does not nearly meet the requirements as set down the Supreme Court of Appeal and is unlawful.
The recommendation by the ECPGNC and SAGNC and the Minister’s decision to gazette the name change completely ignore public opinion on the issue and both the Minister’s statement and the government notice itself fail to mention that in terms of the relevant legislation, persons have 30 days to object to the proposed name change. As such the notice is fatally defective and is of no force or effect as was the case with the announcement of the name change of Queenstown more than a year ago to which no one has paid any attention.
Those who are not in favour of the name change are nevertheless urged to address their objections to the Minister of Arts Culture within the 30 day period. KGG will itself be doing so on behalf of the more than 6000 objectors whose opinions it represents.
Subject to the Minister’s final decision, a legal challenge against the name change will also be launched in due course and success is a foregone conclusion.
Issued by Jock McConnachie and Sigidla Ndumo, Joint Co-ordinators Keep Grahamstown Grahamstown (KGG).
ANC – Sarah Baartman Region
Sarah Baartman welcomes the return of Makhanda kaNxele
The ANC in the Sarah Baartman region of the Eastern Cape, which encompasses Makhanda, welcomes the long awaited renaming of the colonial Grahamstown into Makhanda. This decolonisation move follows 20 years of discussions by members of the public, academics and politicians.
We understand that the delay in the gazetting of the name-change was due to the vitriol spewed by many in the city who saw nothing wrong with an offensive colonial name. Even today, we still bear witness on anti-revolutionaries still fussing and lamenting nostalgic glorification over a notorious English army colonel John Graham – who Grahamstown was named after.
In the past during the public hearings on the name change, the matter divided the university town along racial lines. It was mostly people in the vanilla-side of town who unleashed all sorts of expletives towards the decolonisation of Grahamstown. Now the chorus has been joined by some others who conveniently act oblivious to our history and democracy.
It has been a standard practice in the country to change names which are not in line with the letter and spirit of the Constitution. In 1996, together with those in the vanilla-side of town, we all applauded the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It was indicated then that it is better than the Nuremberg Trials-form of justice. Therefore, we should also accept that it was the same TRC that recommended the renaming of geographic features as a form of symbolic reparation to address an unjust past. Makhanda is such form of symbolic reparation.
Makhanda kaNxele is famous for leading 10 000 warriors of amaXhosa in a resistance against British annexation of Grahamstown in 1918. During the war he was captured and incarcerated at Robben Island – and he had always reassured that he would return. We understand that the famous ridicule of Ukuza kukaNxele has somewhat become an idiom for something that has promise of returning. But with the name-change, Nxele had returned as he had promised his people.
In previous and contemporary narratives, Makhanda kaNxele was characterised as mentally unstable, full of delusions and preached a lie that the English bullets would turn into water and that resulted in thousands of Xhosa warrior’s demise during the battle at Grahamstown.
But through unprejudiced research was actually a curious intellectual, upright, and returned stolen cattle and horses. Through his charisma, he had an ear of kings and chiefs – and had people come to listen to him during preaching. His clarity of thought propelled him into the position of a leading spiritual adviser to the powerful Chief Ndlambe of the amaRharhabe.
The ANC in Sarah Baartman celebrates Makhanda kaNxele as key symbol of the wars of dispossession. His quest to return was evidenced by his attempt to escape from Robben Island, together with other men. Their boats capsized and Makana, while marshalling and urging his men to swim to shore, drowned. Since then, Makhanda became and is still a lasting symbol of resistance.
The next task now must be to rename all the offensive names that still engrave the street poles of Makhanda.
Issued by Regional Secretary Scara Njadayi
Grahamstown Residents Association Chairperson Philip Machanick: a personal perspective
GRA has full range of views
GRA has taken no position on name change other than that the process be defensible, as our membership has the full range of views – from support through preferring to focus on service delivery to opposing. What follows is a personal perspective on where we are now.
On 29 June 2018 I had the extraordinary privilege of hearing retired Constitutional Court Judge Albie Sachs speak during Festival on Expropriation Without Compensation. One of the key points he made is that a foundational principle of constitutionality is that any action by government must be subject to review by the courts. I note that the Keep Grahamstown Grahamstown (KGG) campaign plans to invoke that right, citing the name change of Louis Trichardt that was overturned for inadequate consultation. I also note the Concourt case of City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality v Afriforum and Another in 2016 that upheld leave to appeal against a case preventing changes of Pretoria street names. The Concourt in this case invoked an argument I summarize as “balance of hurt” – that the party more severely hurt should win if both parties would be hurt either way.
I will not review legal arguments but rather focus on South African Geographical Names Council (SAGNC) Chairperson Johnny Mohlala’s comments on “social cohesion”. I agree that this remains a serious problem with deep divisions throughout society, many of which are very apparent in small, compact community such as ours. Where I take issue with SAGNC procedures is that you cannot achieve social cohesion by an adversarial approach. SAGNC’s visit to establish the range of views on name change could not have been more adversarial – pro and anti groups were invited to separate meetings and the anti meeting was angry and no one attempted to narrowing the gap in views. Why should such a procedure be adversarial? Should an attempt at finding consensus and bringing the sides closer together fail, then you can turn to the courts to slug it out.
A constitutional democracy makes decisions with a mix of political and judicial processes. Both of these spheres are inherently adversarial. What we are very much missing in our society is another kind of nation-building process – healing the wounds of the past by finding each other. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) did that to a limited extent but we need a much bigger, more localized, more personal project than that. Name change couldform part of such a project but it is not, as currently configured. Since government has not initiated a broader TRC process, perhaps civil society should take it up.
Reply to Grocott’s Mail’s request to GRA for a statement by Philip Machanick in his personal capacity
National Arts Festival
‘Makhanda Festival’? We’ll work with whatever name we have
Our view is that, from the Festival’s perspective, we’ll work with whatever name we have to work with. We can market a festival in Makhanda as easily as we can one in Grahamstown.
South Africans tend to refer to us colloquially as the “Grahamstown Festival”. I’m sure that, in time, the name “Makhanda Festival” will gain similar traction, and we will be part of the push to make the name recognisable to visitors and potential visitors.
Reply by Festival CEO Tony Lankester to Grocott’s Mail’s request for a statement.
Historian Julie Wells
Thoughts on changing the name of Grahamstown to Makhanda
I count my participation in the name change debates of ten years or so ago as one of the most interesting tasks I have ever observed as a historian. People really debated! A series of roadshows, going to all areas of Grahamstown, introduced audiences to what the whole idea was about and then presented a summary of the leading options – in the words of those who supported them, via video.
Several important questions arose from the discussions. First, the belief that changing a name was going to be so costly that it would erode basic service delivery had to be dispelled. People readily accepted that there would be no crippling financial burden once budgeting processes were explained. Secondly, people wanted to know what the original and oldest name for Grahamstown was. The answer: Egume surprised most. It was virtually unknown, so did not get much support. Thirdly, eRhini was widely acknowledged as the most commonly-known alternative name. Many people objected to this, as it was associated with the old apartheid policies, when eRhini was defined as a black town, separate from the white one.
With all these options in mind, people then debated the name Makhanda. The fact that the name stands for the staunch defence of African peoples’ rights to dignity and their former homes struck a chord. So, more often than not, it was supported more warmly than either the oldest name nor the most common name. People felt it had value in its own right, underscoring one of the most important events that the city is famous for, the battle of Grahamstown, led by Makhanda in 1819.
In none of the sessions outside of the one held in City Hall, did any one stand up and speak for the retention of the name of Grahamstown. This came as something of a surprise, as hot debates had been expected.
Sadly, the exercise showed the city to be very deeply divided along racial lines. Now that the name change is official, it can be hoped that all residents will honestly try to respect and appreciate the reasons behind this choice. With next year looming as the 200th anniversary of Makhanda’s battle, opportunities to debate what it all means for us today should open up.
Issued by Julie Wells, early activist for the change of Grahamstown’s name, in response to a request for comment from Grocott’s Mail.