SA: Statement by AfriForum, civil rights organisation, objects to proposed name change of Orange River (06/06/2013)

6th June 2013

AfriForum has submitted its objection to the name change of the Orange River in the Maletswai municipal area to the Eastern Cape Provincial Geographical Names Committee (ECPGNC).  According to an advertisement published in the Aliwal Weekblad, the ECPGNC proposes that the river’s name should be changed to IGqili or Senqu, as the “present name is perceived to have a strong association with the history of colonial subjugation and has therefore no place under the current democratic dispensation”.
According to Alana Bailey, Deputy CEO of AfriForum, this endeavour to change the river’s name not only amounts to a deed of disrespect towards the past and members of the community, but also a technical error.
The purpose of the South African Geographical Names Council (SAGNC) and its provincial committees is to standardize geographical names and to ensure that geographical features have a single name only, to prevent confusion.  The name of a river that transects or borders on several municipal and even provincial areas therefore cannot have different names in different areas.  The ECPGNC also is not authorized to propose the name changes of any features that fall outside their provincial borders, in other words with this proposal, they are acting beyond their legal parameters.
Apart from the technicalities, Bailey states that AfriForum is of the opinion that the name Orange River, which has been used by members of all communities for more than two centuries, is neither derogatory, nor discriminatory in any way.  The argument that it has “no place under the current democratic dispensation”, is highly objectionable and creates an impression of intolerance towards the cultural history of a specific community.  This does not contribute to the fostering of a culture of mutual recognition and respect amongst communities at all.
“A country’s geographical names should portray the full spectrum of its past and a body such as the SAGNC has the duty to ensure that the historical image created by the names is neither distorted nor diminished because of perceptions,” Bailey added.
The public may submit comments to the ECPGNC to 14 June 2013.