Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Difficulties in Road Renaming
The New York Times carries a web front-page story on the socio-political challenges inherent in renaming roads using political figures. It focusses on Durban, where particular public focus has been centred around the lack of transparency of the naming process itself.

In a province with a predominant Zulu tribal group and a strong IFP constituency, Mangosuthu Buthelezi finds no roads named after him, yet a whole raft of ANC members are represented. Even more challenging for the white population is the proposal to name a road after Andrew Zondo, an ANC guerrilla who killed five whites in a bombing in 1985.

The key to roadnaming in my opinion is dialogue. Local government should embark on an advertising campaign asking for submissions from the public, should provide a list of options that receive comments and undergo debate by the constituents, before finalising options.

People feel a great sense of ownership and identity of their cities. Changes to their neighbourhood roadnames may seem a small alteration, but it significantly affects their world view if they feel imposed by a person they find little respect for. You're never going to please all the people all the time, but dialogue is key. So far I would say that Pretoria's process has got it the furthest wrong, and at present, Johannesburg and Cape Town have got it mostly right.