Is it time to rename South Africa?

Last week, Minister of Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa, vowed to lobby the ANC to rename South Africa. Mthethwa says that “South Africa” is just a geographical description of the country and not the country’s name. President of the African’s People’s Convention, Themba Godi, suggested that we rename our country to Azania, because it’s popular among people. The Daily Vox spoke to young people to find out whether or not we should rename South Africa.

Sabelo Mkhize, 27, IT specialist, Tembisa
First things first, we need to establish why we’re changing the name and what the importance is of changing the name. For me, even if we kept the current name it wouldn’t make any difference. Look, renaming South Africa to Azania is actually quite a broad name, because it doesn’t necessarily revolve around South Africa, Azania is not just a unique name to South Africa, because if I understand the world properly, it refers to Africanness. And if we are changing it to an “African name”, are we giving preference to a specific language or are we being conglomerate and including all the languages within the name itself. South Africa for me still does it and probably will always will because it is more of a representation of the country. I mean there are bigger problems we need to change in the country, like corruption.

A number of African countries changed their names after they gained their independence as a symbol of freeing themselves from colonial rule. Namibia, a former German colony, changed its name from South West Africa after reclaiming its independence in 1990. In 1997, one of Africa’s largest countries, the Democratic Republic of Congo changed its name from Zaire, a name the country was known by during the 1870s Congo Crisis under the dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko.

Siphiwe Moyo, 18, student, Soweto
I don’t see the need to rename South Africa. Even renaming it to Azania as they suggest, does not reflect the cultural and ethnic diversity of South Africa. South Africa is such a diverse country that changing the name would just not take into account the different people that live in this country. The word South Africa for me does it. South Africa has a messed up class division and a lot of inequalities. Can we rather focus on eradicating the disturbing class divisions and unemployment in this country? Rather use the money for that. Helping young people get employed would be much more effective and life-changing than changing a name, to be honest.

Mthethwa also called for the renaming of Durban as it was named after a white imperialist, while “Empangeni” is not a real word in Zulu and should also be changed.

Innocentia Mokwana, 29, broker assistant, Pretoria
I honestly don’t know why anyone would want to rename South Africa. I mean what’s wrong with the name right now? So what if it’s just a geographical description of the country; how would renaming it change anything? He wants to change the name to Azania, what does Azania mean? We have been complaining about white people owning our land but we still want to rename it as if we still own it, why? Explain the logic to me. In Pretoria, the government spent so much money in renaming streets but still kept the colonial names because the new names would confuse people. Why waste so much money on something you also know is useless? The only change South Africa needs right now is the so-called president, because he is not good for our economy. I believe we are in recessions because of his decisions. Really, we need to ask ourselves, how is renaming a country or street going to change someone’s life?

The Economic Freedom Fighters seem to agree, with spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi saying it’s pointless to change the name of a country that does not belong to you.

Jabu Mphything, 25, poet, Roodepoort
I think renaming South Africa is a great idea and I also think that the word Azania is a great name, because it represents us as Africans and who we are. South Africa, on the other hand, is name that was coined by white people and it is not meant for us. I cannot relate with the name because to me, it just locates us on the map. I also think there are other places in Azania that we should rename. Like Johannesburg to Bantu City, because the name would represent our struggles of exploitation as black people who are in the city, trying to better their lives. We need more African names, more names that will speak to us natives of this country in order for us to move forward in reclaiming our country.

While Mthethwa and other political parties see the the need rename South Africa, young people feel that changing the name of the country will not help with resolving the many social issues we are faced with today. Instead, some have proposed that we focus on changing and eradicating issues that affect young people, like unemployment.

Voxes have been edited for brevity and clarity

Featured image via Flickr