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April 29, 2013

Struggle heroes honoured in Cape Town road name changes

Imam Abdullah Haron. Photo courtesy IAHET

South Africa's long and painful history under apartheid is well known, and its legacy is one that the country is still dealing with today. This past Saturday, Freedom Day, celebrated 19 years of democracy and the historic 1994 general election, which saw the end of apartheid rule.

Since that hard-won freedom was achieved, the country has attempted to lessen the painful reminders of what went before, while also honouring those who fought, and in some cases even gave their lives, in the struggle for a new South Africa. One of the ways this has been done is through road name changes, and last month, six roads in Cape Town were the latest to be renamed.

The names chosen had been suggested by the community living in that area, and an extensive public participation process was conducted before the official changes took place. The changes reflect an erasing of colonial and apartheid-era names, but also the honouring of both national and local struggle heroes.

(These notes are taken from an article in the Cape Argus by Clayton Barnes)

Coen Steytler Avenue renamed Walter Sisulu Avenue

Coen Steytler was the brain behind development of the Foreshore and was instrumental in transforming Cape Town into a modern city, a civil servant who chaired a committee to develop the Heerengracht.

Walter Sisulu was an anti-apartheid activist and a leader of the ANC who served 25 years on Robben Island, after which he was elected party deputy president. A close friend of Nelson Mandela, he was married to Albertina Sisulu and was the father of the current Speaker of Parliament, Max Sisulu, and Lindiwe Sisulu, currently the Public Service and Administration Minister.

Hendrik Verwoerd Drive renamed Uys Krige Drive

Hendrik Verwoerd (1901-1966) was prime minister from 1958 until his assassination in 1966, and the man behind the formal conception and implementation of apartheid. He was prime minister during the establishment of the republic in 1961. During his tenure, anti-apartheid movements were banned.

Uys Krige (1910-1987) wrote novels, poems and plays in English and Afrikaans. During World War II he was a war correspondent with the South African forces in north Africa, was captured at Tobruk and spent two years as a prisoner of war before escaping. Krige also translated many Shakespeare plays into Afrikaans, as well as works by Baudelaire and Pablo Neruda.

Modderdam Road renamed Robert Sobukwe Road

Robert Sobukwe (1924-1978) was an activist who broke from the ANC in 1959 to form the PAC, becoming its first president. On March 21 1960 the PAC led a nationwide protest against the carrying of passes, and Sobukwe was arrested in Soweto. On that day police opened fire on PAC supporters at Sharpeville, killing 69. After years of solitary confinement on Robben Island, he was released in 1969 and forced to live in Kimberley, where he opened a law practice.

Lansdowne Road (between Turfhall and Palmyra Roads) to Imam Haron Road

Lord Lansdowne (1845-1927) was Viceroy of India and later Britain’s secretary of state for war from 1895, a post he held at the time of the start of the Anglo-Boer War in 1899. He became British foreign secretary in 1900.

Imam Abdullah Haron (1924-1969) became imam of Al-Jamia Mosque in Claremont in 1955. He publically criticised South Africa’s race laws, particularly the pass laws and the Group Areas Act. He was arrested in 1969 and killed in custody, allegedly having “slipped on the stairs”.

Lansdowne Road (between Wetton and Swartklip Roads) to Japhta K Masemola Road

Japhta “Bra Jeff” Masemola (1928-1990) was a founding member of the PAC. He died in a mysterious car accident on his way to hospital only six months after his release from Robben Island, having served 26 years.

Lansdowne Road (between Swartklip and Baden Powell Roads) to Govan Mbeki Road

Govan Mbeki (1910-2001) was one of the leaders of the ANC imprisoned on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu. The father of former president Thabo Mbeki, he was freed in 1987 and became deputy president of the Senate and later the National Council of Provinces.

Athlone Civic Centre becomes the Dulcie September Civic Centre

Dulcie September (1935-1988) was a Cape Town anti-apartheid activist jailed for five years for conspiracy to commit sabotage in 1964. After her release she was banned, and left South Africa in 1973. She became the ANC’s chief representative in France, and was shot dead outside the ANC’s Paris office on March 29, 1988.

Helen Suzman. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

Four street names have already been changed: Oswald Pirow was changed to Chris Barnard Street, after the cardiac surgeon who performed the world's first successful human-to-human heart transplant at Groote Schuur Hospital (where there is also a museum in his honour). Eastern Boulevard became Nelson Mandela Boulevard, while the concourse between the Artscape theatre and the Civic Centre was renamed after Albert Luthuli, who was awarded the 1960 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the non-violent struggle against apartheid as president of the ANC. The pedestrian section of Castle Street was renamed after Khoisan leader Krotoa. Krotoa van Meerhoff (1642-1674) worked in the household of Jan van Riebeeck, the first governor of the Cape colony when she was young. She learned Dutch and Portuguese and later became an interpreter and a negotiator between the Dutch and Khoi herdsmen. She advocated peace and reconciliation between the different races and was instrumental in the Peace Settlement of the First Dutch-Khoi war between 1659-1660. Western Boulevard was also changed to Helen Suzman Boulevard, after the anti-apartheid activist and politician, and the sole Parliamentarian unequivocally opposed to apartheid for 13 years, from 1961 to 1974.

The process of redressing the past will continue to be a sensitive and subjective one, but with careful consideration, these small steps are the beginning of a process to create a better South Africa for all who live in it.

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