The power of naming

A couple of weeks ago I was in Johannesburg and I went to the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens. The year prior I was in Durban and in Durban, just before the 2010 World Cup, 70 street names were renamed after people involved in the anti-apartheid  struggle. I was staying on a street that had renamed Lillian Ngoyi Road.

Abey was my driver for the time I was in Joburg and it was Abey who took me out to the Gardens (about a 45 minute drive from Craighall). Abey moved to Johannesburg from Limpopo in 1969. He lived in Hillbrow for a long period of time but doesn’t live there anymore. Going to the Walter Sisulu Gardens gave me the opportunity to talk to Abey about the anti-apartheid struggle, Walter Sisulu and related issues. It would be almost impossible to go to the Walter Sisulu gardens and not talk about him. Herein lies the power of naming.

Naming public spaces after people who work/ed tirelessly in the freedom struggle helps these people live in our memories. I had never heard of Lillian Ngoyi before I went to Durban but now I can’t forget her. She was the first woman elected to the executive committee of the ANC and helped launch the Federation of South African women. When flying in to Johannesburg (as almost all tourists do) you arrive at O.R. Tambo airport. Port Elizabeth is in the municipality of Nelson Mandela Bay. Nelson Mandela is without a doubt the most familiar of the anti-apartheid activists but as Durban can attest, there are more 70 people worthy of having streets names after them.

The apartheid regime banned the mention of the ANC, SACP and other resistance groups, and banned the mention of any of the leaders names (as well as banning the organizations outright). It is only right that now their names are etched in memory for a long time to come.

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