UKZN Commended for Initiating Name Change Process
The University of KwaZulu-Natal recently hosted a webinar to discuss the naming process of University buildings and entities, and chart the way forward for its community to participate and make the process successful.
As part of the broader efforts to continue with the University’s transformation agenda, the webinar titled, Naming the Unnamed Structures and Common Spaces in Terms of National Imperative and Rationale, aimed at supporting social cohesion, diversity and transformation while sending a message of unity to the University community, stakeholders and donor communities.
Panellists included Ms Palesa Kadi, the Chairperson of the South African Geographical Names Council (SAGNC) in the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture who delivered the keynote address; UKZN’s Emeritus Professor Donal McCracken who gave a historical perspective and response; Executive Director: Corporate Relations, Ms Normah Zondo who welcomed the webinar participants; and UKZN’s Head of Performing Arts, Professor Sihawukele Ngubane who directed the programme.
In her welcome address, Zondo said the University is fully mindful that the process of naming the unnamed structures and common places is a delicate process requiring sensitivity, proper consultation and engagement with various stakeholders.
‘Naming our unnamed buildings and common spaces is not just a nice to have but it is part of the broader efforts to continue with our transformation agenda. As UKZN, we pride ourselves on being amongst the most transformed Universities in the country. Our strides towards transformation are already reflected in the names of some of our buildings and common spaces, in the culture of the Institution, and through our culturally diverse ceremonies including the graduation ceremonies.’
In her keynote address, Kadi said place-naming is not different from space-making as names are a reminder of the power once held. She said the ‘truth about our places, names, and place naming as an act of transformation is a complex counter-attack against colonialism.’ She added that the naming process has not been consistent or has been uneven throughout the provinces with some being bolder than others. Kadi said opposition to the renaming process has also been witnessed through legal challenges and protests.
‘The courts have been brought in to preside on the legality of other changes and they definitely look at the process as prescribed in the guidelines. We have observed, in some instances, reversed renaming, citing procedural flaws.’
She further noted how capitalism, dominance and iconic relate to space and place naming. She said a large number of informal settlements are named after struggle icons yet many University buildings and residences are named after corporates with no clear terms or time frames for separation. She said old residences and buildings are mostly named by student leaders after their former students and political leaders.
Moreover, she commended the University for taking this critical step, however reminding participants that universities are an extension of societies and a place of authority where ideas on policy-making and social change are meant to be birthed. ‘But what is comforting with UKZN is the establishment of guidelines and the names bank. A process well appreciated for knowledge management, implemented by SAGNC nationally and the United Nations working group of Names Experts where I am the Chairperson of Dutch and German-speaking countries,’ said Kadi.
When naming buildings, Kadi advised on looking at atrocities associated with the building and sensitivity around the issue of race. She called for more buildings to be named after women, highlighting that, ‘For the past four years, every quarter I have presided over names submitted by respective provinces for recommendation to Minister Mthethwa…in fifteen of the new Durban, only five carried names representing females and these were all related to British royalty. This business judgement rule requires a movement that is so intentional.’
In his response to Kadi, McCracken said it is important, first and foremost, to acknowledge that the country is writing the wrong. He said because South Africa had a negotiated settlement and did not break out into civil war, most people in the White community do not realise that there was a revolution and that we are living in a post-revolutionary situation, and that in a post-revolutionary situation there is change, and that change is inevitable.
‘Name changing is not merely a symbolic thing, it is something that underpins the whole ethos of a nation and it has to happen. There will be mistakes but it is not the fundamental of what has to happen in a country,’ said McCracken.
He said there are three motives that will require a name change. He said it is necessary to correct the spelling of some names and that is a natural process, but that is not always going to happen and people do not have to change them. The second is changing an existing name while the last motive is the new name for new places.
McCracken cautioned against pitfalls but he said South Africa has done a good job with some cities having renamed their street names more than others. He said the country should avoid triumphalism and sectionalism, and it has to have processes and regulations in place. However, he warned against looking at this as an airbrushing exercise or destruction of history. ‘It is a cleansing exercise but it must be a positive cleansing exercise and it cannot be done in the spirit of vindictiveness,’ he said.
McCracken noted that name-change reversal is a reality and names are not permanent. He made local and global examples of names that had been changed and reversed or renamed with the change of political rulers.
He agreed with Zondo that UKZN was ahead when it comes to transformation and said the naming process is a sensible one but urged that the names must have a meaning and relate to the University community.
Responding to naming buildings after donors, he said it is a catch-22 because not naming a building after a donor can sometimes mean no money is received. He advised that the University has to change at least four of its geographically named campuses, adding that the name-change process is necessary nationally and institutionally, and will make South Africa a better place.
Answering questions from participants, Zondo said the University naming committee is aware of the call to rename some of UKZN’s existing names but urged the University community to be patient as this process requires thorough consultations and there are legal aspects that need to be taken into consideration.
African Languages Senior Lecturer, Dr Gugu Mazibuko thanked panellists for honouring the invitation and for their presentations. She also expressed gratitude to participants, the University community, the KZN Provincial Geographical Names Committee, Mr Njabulo Manyoni from the University Language Office who translated the webinar, and alumni for attending.
Words: Sithembile Shabangu