Foreign Policy Blogs

A Rose By Any Other Name . . . Would Apparently Anger Some White South Africans

A couple of weeks back I wrote about controversy over the renaming of the South African town of Louis Trichardt.  It seemed obvious to me that a country that had so long seen the majority population trampled under the foot of the white minority ought to have the fairly fundamental right to reclaim the naming rights of the country's towns, cities, and institutions. Some members of the formerly privileged population disagree.

The naming controversy is back in the news. This time the issue is the South African Broadcasting Corporation's (SABC's) running of ads  referring to “Tshwane,” an African name meaning “We Are All One,” and by which the municipality (but not the city proper) of Pretoria has also been known for some time now, as Africa's leading capital.

The complainants in this case are from AfriForum, which represents itself as a civil rights organization for minorities, which means for South Africa's whites, that is affiliated with the equally white-dominated union “Solidarity.” (Enjoy, if that is the word, their website here.) Color me dubious about AfriForum, a group that grabbed the mantel of protector of civil rights only well after the demise of one of the least-civil rights oriented governments in modern history finally gave way to multi-racial democracy. The AfriForum staff is all white, and among their many complaints with the current dispensation are as follows: “Specific problem areas, e.g. the government's growing obsession with race, political interference in sport, race-based welfare subsidies, crime and the ill-considered changing of some place names will receive attention.”

Let's forget the irony of  white South Africans of a certain age lamenting an obsession with race for a moment. Let's instead keep in mind that the race obsession of arguably the most race-obsessed regime in human history necessitated serious attempts at transformation in sport, in welfare policies, and in the rest of South African life, and that crime is a function of poverty as much as anything, and that poverty was pretty much built into the apartheid system. As for the “ill-considered changing of some place names,” this is only a viable complaint if you sincerely believe that an overwhelmingly African country ought to continue on with names imposed by a white master class, indeed that whites are entitled to prevail when it comes to place naming. That is, suffice it to say, a peculiar (and rather self-serving) rationalization.

AfriForum might seem more sympathetic if it appeared to be trying to cross racial lines in a country so historically beset by racial division overwhelmingly fomented by the white minority. Instead it just comes across as ranging between shrill and tone deaf. AfriForum is not racist, per se, from what I can tell, but its commitment to civil rights seems selective and at times nearly parodic.