New and old city/place names in South Africa
source: Official South African Geographical Names System
The South African Constitution mandates government and, indeed, the entire nation to take active steps to redress the injustices of the past. Among such injustices was the consistent denigration, debasement and corruption of African expressions, words, names, and especially place names, in the past. In order to ensure stability and to minimize the threat of confusion, South Africans collectively agreed that this necessary process of redress would be governed by law and would be as inclusive as possible. These procedures to be followed were written into laws that enjoyed the support of a wide range of political parties, reflecting the degree of consensus reached around the issue.
The law regarding place name changes provides that any citizen, property owner or developer, organised body, government department, local authority as well as the South African Post Office is eligible to apply to have place name changed or re-confirmed. Application forms are available through the South African Geographical Names Council (SAGNC). Applicants are required to offer motivation for the change they seek and should provide supportive information, such as the origin and meaning of the proposed name; historical evidence justifying its adoption such as oral traditions, archival documents or other relevant facts that maybe required.
Once completed the application forms are then be submitted to the Local Authority, who will process and validate the applications by affixing its official stamp. Applications then proceed to the Provincial Geographical Names Council (PGNC) for consideration. A Local Authority may, at its discretion, conduct public hearings to test the acceptability of the name change. It could also refer the matter to the next tier of government, the Province. The PGNC, in its turn has the discretion to request the involvement of the national tier, by referring the issue to the SAGNC. To arrive at a decision the SAGNC may consult specialists and researchers who can either authenticate or refute the claims of the applicant/s. The SAGNC meets three times a year. Its schedule may at times slow down the pace at which applications are processed.
SAGNC too has the authority to test the acceptability of the name change by consulting the general public and stakeholders. After concluding its deliberations and consultations the SAGNC submits a proposal for a place-name change to the Minister of Arts and Culture, who after due consideration of the matter, makes the final decision to publish the name change in the Government Gazette.
In the instance of the name change that is highly contested or controversial, the Minister has the power to investigate the matter further, hold public hearings and access the validating research to satisfy himself before making a final decision.