Gqeberha: what's in a name change and how easily can it happen?
18 April 2021, Neo Madlala
Gqeberha, albeit uncomfortably, is the name on everyone’s tongues, with some still trying their utmost to learn how to pronounce it and the inhabitants of the city formally known as Port Elizabeth, coming to grips with its usage.
But how does such a name change take place?
The Minister of Arts and Culture, Hon. Nathi Mthethwa, under the advisement of the South African Geographical Names Council (“The Council”) gazetted the name change of Port Elizabeth to Gqeberha under section 10(2) of the South African Geographical Council Act 118 of 1998 (“The Act”) on the 23rd of February 2021. In terms of the Act, the Minister of Arts and Culture is empowered to approve or reject a recommendation by the Council for a geographical name.
The Council consists of no less than 15 members and not more than 25 members, who are chosen by the nine provinces, The South African Post Office, The Chief Directorate: Surveys and Mapping, The Pan South African Language Board, and any other organisation, body or institution that the Minister may consider relevant.
In a nutshell, this particular Council’s function is to create Provincial Geographical Names Committees, create standards and guidelines, receive name change proposals, recommend and advise the Minister on proposed name changes and consistently monitor geographical areas under the competency of the Act which may require name changes.
It is the duty of the Provincial Committee to ensure that were there is a proposed name change, the citizenry are provided with an opportunity to participate in the process by sharing their views. The Council must take into consideration the views of the public and advise the Minister of all views, even those against the proposed name change. Once the geographical name has been gazetted by the Minister, interested persons or bodies have the right in terms of section 10(3) of the Act to file objections against the proposed name within 30 days of the gazetting.
The Minister may then refer the objection to the Council and having been advised thereof, either accept, amend or reject the objection. Should the objection be rejected, the aggrieved party may take the Minister’s decision on review in terms of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act 3 of 2000 ("PAJA") to the High Court with the relevant jurisdiction.
Our courts have dealt with similar name changing matters in Tshwane and most recently, the changing of Grahamstown to Makhanda. The Courts recognise that name-changing falls within the competency of the Executive Branch of the State and that the changes have a transformational agenda to it. Where the Executive has failed to properly conduct public participation hearings or where valid objections have been overlooked, the courts have been willing to review and set aside the Minister’s decision.
The Mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay has pronounced his objection to the proposed name change and indicated his intention to file an objection, which he has surely done by now. He argues that the name is not representative of the demographic of Gqeberha and that the Minister and/or the Council failed to conduct public participation hearings. A court challenge is looming in this matter and we should expect a review application from one or more bodies.