On Tuesday the Executive Committee decided that it would refer a recommendation that some 9 names of streets be changed in order that a broad-based report be prepared after consultation.

Much has been made in the media about the recommendations which were considered by EXCO. The process has taught me a few things.  Firstly, the media did not act very responsibly as it trumpeted recommendations from a committee as if they were decisions of the municipality.

This then led to all manner of experts providing comment on matters which were not decisions of council, resulting in significant and unnecessary negative comment. At the same time, I do agree that we should try and build as much consensus as possible in the process.

Second, the comment provided on the recommendations was for the most part misplaced. No-one bats an eyelid when corporations go through a rebranding process which costs far more than any such street renaming process. No-one says much when we tender for new letterheads, posters, street signs and the like to be printed. But when a relatively small number of street renamings (less than one-half of one percent of all roads) are recommended for name changes, verbal war breaks out.  And untruthful claims (such as that our city has no statues of Mahatma Gandhi) are projected as fact.

The plight of the poor is suddenly advanced as a reason for rejecting name changes. However, the record of this city in addressing poverty is conveniently ignored. These policies include: we do not charge rates on properties valued below R30 000 with a sliding scale for properties valued between R30 001 and R100 000; we provide 6kl of water free to every household in the city; we have introduced a number of extensions in deadlines to allow struggling ratepayers ample time to settle their debts; we have several forms of rebates on a range of categories of properties - especially land earmarked for low-cost housing development; we assist thousands of individuals and community based organisations with equipment for food security programmes and other grants-in-aid.

But in all of this a set of critical issues are ignored. Apartheid, after all, was not only about economic oppression. It was also about psychological and identity destruction. It destroyed my sense of identity as it partitioned me as a white person, who had to serve in an army whose only role was to fight fellow South Africans. And so we must focus on rebuilding our sense of self. 

We must begin to own our destiny and in all of this we must acknowledge those who got us to where we are. All of this helps us to take another step away from the brutality of apartheid.

And this change will, naturally, come at a cost. But the major benefit is that it will allow us to join hands and hold our heads high together. In remembering the Florence Mkhizes, Johnny Makhatinis, Archbishop Hurleys and Papwa Sewgolums I become whole again. I pick up their spear and know that what we have accomplished is correct.

Michael Sutcliffe