A Name or an Insult?

Yes I have travelled through the roads of amaXhosa lands. I have watched and admired the green rolling hills of the former Transkei region. Now that I mention the name Transkei, it is a name that has been erased on paper however it is the way we still speak of it. It is the way we understand the region of the birth of many heroes. While the name is associated with times of oppression and marginalisation of black people in apartheid South Africa; @Mzidlanga tweeted that he continues to use the name as he has to cross the Kei River in order to reach the land of his home. I could not use homeland as the word too has been spoilt by apartheid. Most of the names that have been changed are not evil in themselves however; they were removed because of the evil they represented. I myself was born in Mount Ayliff. It was a name I always accepted, without too many questions. These so called “mounts” in the former Transkei are hardly visible, such as Mount Frere or Mount Fletcher. It was when I drove past Mount Nicholas in a land covered in hills and scattered Xhosa huts that look like they had mushroomed from the earth since the beginning of time that I took a second look. The name Mount Nicholas was clearly not fitting for such a place. It was then that I felt insulted by such an English name over such hills and these very clear Xhosa huts. Who was so arrogant that he arrived and claimed the mount for himself? Again, I recall seeing no mountain in Mount Nicholas. You will find this shocking Mount Nicholas sign as you travel along the road that leads towards Port St. Johns. It was here that I also realised how ill-fitting a name like Mount Ayliff was. Mount Ayliff is now referred to as Maxesibeni and prides itself as perhaps one of the cleanest little towns in the Eastern Cape. I mentioned the necessity of name changes to the writer, Sindiwe Magona in passing at a book fair in Cape Town two years ago. She was indignant, saying that monies should be used for things that transform people’s lives such as education not silly name changes. I agreed with the point of utilising money for more tangible needs, even though I still thought fundamentally odd names like that, that no one knows their association must be removed. Names carry meaning, every black person in this country knows it. So did the people who put up their names over us. They wanted to make their mark, and they did and their mark remains while we still carry their names and identify our spaces of existence with them. If a guy called Ayliff built a town I have no problem with keeping the name if it has a positive association. I decided to let go of such matters. The problem arose once again when I recently returned to the township I grew up in called Mdantsane, which also falls part of the old apartheid homeland called Ciskei. Sometimes we accept names without questioning or protesting. We embrace it as something we are even proud of. When I had to change my addresses in all the official papers and write N.U. I always wondered why we called it ‘units’ when we also referred to it as N.U. I quickly woke up and learnt that every single time I say I live in N.U.; I am saying that I live in a Native Unit. That is more despicable and more insulting and degrading than living in any Colonial Englishman’s self-named mount. We must be crazy to have done nothing about changing the names of only the 2nd largest township in the nation. Those mounts can keep their Colonial names forever, and every airport’s name may keep every apartheid name if 22 years since Nelson Mandela’s release from prison a huge community such as Mdantsane still lives in Native Units and no one is outraged it!
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Siki Dlanga

I am a South African woman who laughs out loud. I think beauty is not well understood so too often it is exploited and too often its power underrated. The course of life is most impacted by those who have the most significant conversations. Thus life is the sum of conversations. I hope to capture you with the beauty of being in conversation.

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