After Sport, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa gazetted the renaming of Eastern Cape towns and airports, despite opposing submissions, the Democratic Alliance (DA) said the African National Congress (ANC) government had gone too far.
Mthethwa in a government gazette, on Tuesday officially approved the change of Port Elizabeth International Airport to Chief Dawid Stuurman International Airport as well as the change of East London Airport to King Phalo Airport.
Uitenhage has been changed to Kariega, Port Elizabeth is now Gqeberha, while King William's Town will be known as Qonce.
On Wednesday, the DA said it will submit written parliamentary questions to the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture regarding the name changes, focusing on the cost and the public participation process followed prior to the changing of names of cities, towns and airports in the province.
DA spokesperson Veronica van Dyk said it was important to interrogate whether the public, especially residents living in those towns and cities, were given adequate and reasonable time to make their voices heard on the issue.
"Was the process advertised in due time and was every voice considered?" she asked.
"Given the public outcry... it would seem as though government was simply engaging in a box-ticking exercise under the guise of 'transformation' and ultimately ignored the voices opposed to the name changes. This was clearly nothing more than a political ploy by the ANC government to garner votes in an election year.
"But this decision to sideline submissions from the public by rejecting 139 objections, including two petitions with 180 signatures, might have been a step too far for the ANC government.
"In answer to legitimate concerns about the cost of the project and suggestions on how the money could be better spent to invigorate the economy and maintain and update infrastructure, the department had the audacity to reply in a statement that 'this transformation agenda seeks to redress the imbalances of the past, therefore no quantifiable price tag could be put on it'," said Van Dyk.
Van Dyk said this was the same department that had failed to support the arts and culture sectors of South Africa during the Covid-19 pandemic, "forcing it to its knees and leaving multitudes in the industry jobless, homeless and starving".
The process leading up to this name change, however, has not been unanimous. It has also been met with a fair amount of resistance. City Press reported in September last year that the proposed renaming of the East London Airport to King Phalo Airport had been met with resistance by some traditional leaders in the Eastern Cape.
The publication further reported that traditional leaders of AmaGqunukhwebe in Tyolomnqa in East London expressed their unhappiness with the name change. The leaders preferred that the airport be named after Chief Pato of AmaGqunukhwebe because "they claim the land on which the airport is situated falls under the land of Pato, and not Phalo of AmaXhosa".
The DA, in 2019, opposed the name change of the PE airport, saying it would cost millions and would be a slap in the face of the poor in the province. TimesLive reported that, in 2019, the recommendation by the Eastern Cape geographical names committee that Port Elizabeth be renamed Gqeberha had caused an uproar among residents, leading to a petition titled, "Keep the name Port Elizabeth".
At the time, it had approximately 19 000 signatures. Mthethwa's spokesperson has not yet responded to a request for comment.