Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa’s controversial renaming of the historic Port Elizabeth to Gqeberha has united residents across race and political divides in opposition to the move.
Leading the charge is Nelson Mandela Bay executive mayor Nqaba Bhanga, with a petition calling for the reversal of the decision gathering momentum.
Already, more than 40 000 people have signed the petition calling for Mthethwa to repeal the renaming of Port Elizabeth –
home to several political, sporting and business leaders.
Bhanga yesterday said he would write a formal letter of complaint to Mthethwa and plans to take legal action over what he described as “a divisive name, without any proper isiXhosa meaning – only used in reference to a Port Elizabeth township
In dropping the bombshell on Port Elizabeth, Mthethwa said the name change was “part of a government programme to transform South Africa’s heritage landscape”.
Bhanga said the renaming of Port Elizabeth would have financial repercussions, “especially in the tourism sector”.
“The renaming of Port Elizabeth to Gqeberha is a big mistake because Gqeberha is reference to a township in Walmer.
“You can’t rename the entire city after one small township.
“Names should unify people, but this one – with no emotional attachment to the people of Port Elizabeth – has divided our community.
“The majority of our people are angry at this name because it is not their identity.”
Bhanga said the name change would have “a devastating effect on the economy of the city, especially in the tourism industry, because people won’t know their destination”.
He added: “We are challenging the department’s public consultation process, which was not extensively done and failed to cover a sizeable number of people.
“They invited through newspapers notices, when not all our people read newspapers.
“I am not the only one challenging the consultation process, because the ANC itself has issued a statement on this.
“If you have the DA [Democratic Alliance], ANC and other parties claiming there were glaring gaps in the consultation process leading to the name change, then we have a problem.
“I will be writing a letter to Mthethwa on all these issues and will consult with lawyers on a recourse to take.”
Jacoleen Serfontein, who started the 50 000-target petition campaign on social media, said: “Please do not change the name Port Elizabeth, which has been there for years.
“There is so much government can do with the money rather than changing names of cities and streets.”
Said PE-born internationally renowned former Columbia Broadcasting System cameraman Siphiwo Ralo: “Our economy is in a sick state; the unemployment rate is high and we have an epidemic that is killing our people.
“Yet we’re about to spend financial resources that we desperately need on a novelty project. I wonder if this is not a distraction.”
Johannesburg-based Trevor Tambo, founder and chief executive of National Digital Asset Exchange, was born and grew up in Port Elizabeth’s Motherwell township. He said: “Port Elizabeth has for the past two years been through a dysfunctional administration, with an unemployment rate recorded to over 40% – which is very alarming.
“The money allocated for the name changes should be redirected to job creation, especially for the historical-disadvantaged youth…”
Writing on his Facebook page, anti-apartheid activist and business leader Mkhuseli Jack said: “I will join the PE people to oppose the name change, considering the current economic climate.”