Power to Makhanda: Flailing municipality gets a name change

29 June 2018 - 11:04 By Timeslive
Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa on Friday gazetted the name change of the Eastern Cape city‚ which falls under the Makana Local Municipality.
Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa on Friday gazetted the name change of the Eastern Cape city‚ which falls under the Makana Local Municipality.
Image: DANIEL BORN

The name is reminiscent of the fictional country Wakanda in the blockbuster superhero movie Black Panther but for residents of the Eastern Cape‚ Makhanda is not in the slightest bit made-up.

It is the new name for Grahamstown – and it’s been two decades of debate and four years of official processes in the making.

Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa on Friday gazetted the name change of the Eastern Cape city‚ which falls under the Makana Local Municipality.

Makhanda and Makana both honour Makhanda kaNxele‚ a warrior who fought against the land dispossession of the Xhosa under colonialism‚ in various battles‚ including one where he led an attack against the British garrison at Grahamstown in 1819.

He was imprisoned on Robben Island but drowned when attempting to escape.

Makhanda is viewed as the correct spelling of his name.

Mthethwa said in a statement that the renaming has been preceded by 20 years of discussions‚ from members of the public‚ historians‚ academics and politicians. As early as 2012‚ the Makana Local Municipality had public engagements on changing the name of Grahamstown when they were dealing with changing street names‚ he added.

During public meetings in recent years‚ the names Rhini‚ Makana‚ Makhanda and Nxele were debated.

The minister urged "all South Africans to all be crystal clear about the meaning of name-change in the national effort to transform the country".

He said: "Name changes is an internationally accepted practice fully supported and endorsed by the United Nations that countries have the sovereign right to standardise names and can decide what name to give for each feature in that country should be or how it should be spelt. In this instance‚ there has a been a call for almost 20 years to change the name of the town‚ and those who have pushed for this name to be changed have been informed chiefly by what Colonel (John) Graham epitomises‚ and the painfully bitter memories his name evokes."

Graham‚ after who the city was named‚ was a brutal British commander who waged battle not just against soldiers but also against women‚ children and the elderly‚ said the minister.

"In South Africa‚ it has been standard practice to change names which are not in line with the letter and spirit of the Constitution.

"It is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that recommended that the renaming of geographic features be a form of 'symbolic reparation' to address an unjust past. These reparations include changing the names of geographical places. Surely‚ we cannot prove ourselves committed (as government) to fully achieve these reparations if we retain names such as ‘Grahamstown’‚" said Mthethwa.

Residents of the city‚ known for its university‚ legal fraternity and farming community‚ have been lobbying for more than a name change.

The city faces enormous infrastructure and management challenges‚ has deteriorated sharply over the past two years with crumbling road‚ sanitation‚ water and electrical infrastructure.

The municipality has long been plagued with problems.

The Sarah Baartman District has loaned municipal manager Ted Pillay to Makana‚ tasking him with developing a turnaround strategy which will address the most pressing basics of clean water‚ adequate electricity and sound infrastructure.

Just this month‚ GroundUp reported that residents of Grahamstown and other parts of Makana Municipality have been without access to clean water for months. This followed the discovery by independent laboratories in mid-May that levels of E.coli in Makana’s drinking water supply were unsafe. This sparked outrage among local residents and civil society organisations who accuse the municipality of inefficiency and mismanagement.

Almost exactly a year ago‚ Grahamstown-based publication Grocott’s Mail reported that a coalition calling themselves Concerned Citizens of Grahamstown‚ acting with the support of attorneys Wheeldon Rushmere and Cole‚ requested that Makana Municipality be placed under administration in terms of Section 139(5) of the Constitution.

The publication quoted acting municipal manager Dali Mlenzana as saying he was surprised by the call – but that he “openly admitted the financial crisis” and that a task team was being formed to address it.

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