Twenty years after the release of Nelson Mandela from prison, and with all the doom and gloom going around, there is one issue that has upset me for a while. It’s not HIV/Aids, or crime, or violence against women, or unemployment, or the lack of proper housing for poor people, or drug abuse on the Cape Flats, even though these issues upset me too.

No, the issue that I have been thinking about as the country and the world celebrated the 20th anniversary of what was a great day in our country’s history is: street names.

This is particularly a bone of contention for people living in the Western Cape, where DF Malan, Oswald Pirow, Hendrik Verwoerd and the like still dominate street names in the city centre and what used to be known as “whites-only” suburbs in the bad old days of apartheid.

Mandela, Steve Biko, Samora Machel, Chris Hani, Oliver Tambo, Oscar Mpetha and other high-calibre leaders are commemorated in what used to be (no, still are) “black” townships, such as Khayelitsha and Phillippi.

It irritates me no end, and makes me ashamed to be a citizen of Cape Town and the Western Cape when I drive through Khayelitsha and I see streets named in honour of these leaders.

I’m glad that they are honoured but not in this ghetto fashion. It is almost as if Mandela and the others fought for the liberation of black people only, and so they must be honoured in black townships only.

I understand the arguments by some people who believe that it is expensive to change street names, and that this could have an implication on businesses which operate in these streets.

I also understand the arguments of people who say that we should not be honouring politicians by naming streets after them.

However, if it is okay to change street names in the townships, then why can’t we change street names in the city centre? Is it okay for township people to have the expense of changing their street addresses and not people in the city centre?

Also, while I agree it is difficult to honour living politicians because you never know what they will get up to after being honoured, there is nothing wrong with honouring politicians after they have passed away or, at the very least, retired.

In a city like Cape Town, that already gets accused of being unfriendly towards black Africans, it is important for our city fathers and mothers to be sensitive to this issue.

When Helen Zille was mayor of Cape Town, she commissioned a working group to come up with possible name changes. This group, under the leadership of Rhoda Kadalie, produced what I thought was a fair report, given the city’s divisive history. However, nothing happened after they delivered their report.

It galls me to drive around in the city centre where almost every street name harks back to the bad days of apartheid, while township streets celebrate the leaders who fought for our liberation: not only for black liberation, but for the liberation of all.

Oliver Tambo and the other leaders I have mentioned above lived by Mandela’s words that he first uttered during his trial and repeated on his release: “I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination.”

Why should this man, and others who share his views, be honoured in the black townships only?


  • Ryland Fisher is former editor of the Cape Times and author of the book Race. This is his second book, following on Making the Media Work for You, which was published in 2002. He is executive chairperson of the Cape Town Festival, which he initiated while editor of the Cape Times in 1999 as part of the One City Many Cultures project. He received an international media award for this project in New York in October 2006. His personal motto is "bringing people together", which was the theme of One City Many Cultures. It remains the theme of the Cape Town Festival and is the theme of Race. Ryland has worked in and with government, in the media for more than 25 years, in the corporate sector, in NGOs and in academia. Ultimately, however, he describes himself as "just a souped-up writer".


Ryland Fisher

Ryland Fisher is former editor of the Cape Times and author of the book Race. This is his second book, following on Making the Media Work for You, which was published in 2002. He is...

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