The state agency responsible for names of towns and cities approved plans Thursday to rename the capital of Pretoria as Tshwane, dismissing criticism by mainly white South Africans that it would undermine their cultural traditions.
Tommy Ntsewa, chairman of the National Geographical Names Council, said there was no evidence that anyone would be affected by the registration of the “new geographical feature,” which will appear on maps and street signs once the government has approved the recommendation, which is expected to be a formality.
The Tshwane Metropolitan Council voted in March to change the name of the capital, leaving only the city center as Pretoria. The wider metropolitan area around the capital is already known as Tshwane.
Established by white settlers in 1855, the city was named after Andries Pretorius, a leader of the Afrikaners’ “Great Trek” into the interior of the country. Tshwane is derived from the Ndebele name used by some of the region’s earliest African inhabitants. It means “we are the same.”
President Thabo Mbeki on Thursday spoke out in favor of changing names to break with the colonial past. In a speech to parliament in Cape Town, he singled out Grahamstown, named in 1812 after a British army colonel, John Graham, who was known for his brutal suppression of local Africans in the colonization wars.
“He didn’t only fight the soldiers on the other side, but burnt their fields and killed their cattle, and starved them into submission; he killed them into submission,” Mbeki said.
“Yet we have a town—Grahamstown—named after him. The question must arise: why do we celebrate a butcher? This place has got a name; it’s called iRhini. But we celebrate a butcher!”