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Renaming streets : Why @RyanOConnorSA was partly right July 4, 2011

Posted by cmfry in Politics.
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This morning on KFM’s Breakfast show, Ryan O’Connor and his team began discussing street names, and the changing thereof. They outlined that this process requires a vast amount of money and time, and the implications of it extend across all sorts of boundaries, not just for industries, but for society in general. There was also lots of feedback, among others a tweet from @purringkittykat questioning whether people should rather be honored by buildings being named after them. The main point they were making was that this money and resources could clearly be used on more pressing social issues, like building houses, increasing service delivery and strengthening the public service.

Well, I believe they’re partly right. And by partly I mean about 60% right. In this country, there seems to be an unhealthy fascination with changing street names, and buying flashy cars using state (including municipal) funding, while the rest of the nation is hamstrung by a rapidly declining level of service delivery. And yes, this service delivery decline does not only pertain to the local government sphere. Our public schools are woefully understaffed, and many school buildings are a serious state of disrepair (some children are still being taught in mud huts and und trees!). Many of our hospitals are in urgent need of regular maintenance, and while our medical staff are doing the best they can with what they’ve got, they too are beset by problems associated with understaffing and skilled labour leaving the country. The backlog in the maintenance of our roads has now hit R149 BILLION! This has necessitated the transport ministry to introduce more toll roads on the nation’s more widely used roads, placing more financial burden on the citizens.

But there is another issue that affects human dignity which we would be loathe to understand and confront. The regime pre-1994 sought to entrench apartheid through various means, including covert and overt mechanisms. One of these strategies was the naming of streets and public areas after architects of the system; including Jan Smuts Drive, Hendrik Verwoed Avenue and D.F. Malan Airport among others (this also included the erection of statues of these people in prominent places around the nation). Furthermore, they also named streets after clearly derogatory terms in townships and locations where the only emotion they would stir is rabid hatred eg. Native Yard 1, Boesman Straat etc.

It is this injustice that, too, must be confronted, along with the injustice of not having adequate housing based on the colour of your skin, or not having access to education because you don’t have enough money, because you were previously unfairly disadvantaged. And I would venture to believe that Ryan and his team would agree with me that we are not going to eradicate all the injustices of the past overnight, but we have the power to start dealing with them on more than just one front.

Yes, spending R800 million on re-naming roads while your education system is crumbling is an insult to say the least, and those in charge should be held accountable, but let’s be congnisant of the fact that restoring human dignity also includes restoring one’s environment to reflect our pride.

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