The incidents of violence that accompanied today’s march against street renaming underlines for us the heightened emotions and hysteria being displayed by those who chose to refuse to let go of the past by insisting that our streets should not be renamed.

The violence is unacceptable and completely out of kilter with the democratic process of engagement which this Council has pursued on the matter of the street renaming. Despite all kinds of public protestations that the eThekwini Municipality is not being consultative on this matter; despite all manner of super sensational local newspaper headlines on this matter, the facts are as follows:

The eThekwini Municipality is carrying out an act prescribed by national government – that of ensuring that the city in which we live more accurately reflects its people and its history

The eThekwini Municipality’s process of street renaming is not being done in isolation and is in fact a process that is being pursued by cities, towns and provinces in South Africa

The eThekwini Municipality placed adverts and posters calling on ALL the people of eThekwini to propose name changes for the streets and facilities of our city so that it may more accurately reflect our people and our history

All proposed names have subsequently been published in newspapers in this region to spark public debate on the matter and such public debate is now occurring

The names that have been proposed are just that: PROPOSED names

Those who are reacting in the manner they did today chose NOT TO participate in the process of proposing names and we are taken aback that they choose instead to take to the streets brandishing weapons and striking at innocents
 
We cannot help but reflect that had this same hysterical and emotive response been forthcoming from this group of protestors against apartheid, we would have all been the better for it.
 
The reality is that the street names will change.
 
While we say this categorically, we want at the same time to acknowledge that not all those who have responded to this issue have done so blindly and emotively. Some people have raised valid and considered argument against some of the proposed names and these will be considered before final decisions are taken.
 
This process is not aimed at ramming new street names down people’s throats as some newspapers will have you believe; nor is it about blindly changing street names for the sake of changing them.
 
A decade and a half after democracy we must, as South Africans, take a look around us and ask “what has changed?” Does the economy reflect change? Do our neighbourhoods reflect change? Do our hearts and minds reflect a true embracing of a new South Africa? Do we, this so-called Rainbow Nation of people look at each other not through the spectacles of racist stereotype but through a lens of true equality?
 
The spoils of democracy include ensuring that the towns and cities, the roads and streets reflect the people and history, the collective culture of ALL South Africans. Universal franchise alone will not undo decades of oppression and racism.

But universal franchise, accompanied by changes to economic power and development; accompanied by a rigorous process of ensuring belonging and acknowledgement of history and cultures is what will ensure that South Africa belongs to all who live in it – black and white.
 
Councillor Obed Mlaba
Mayor: eThekwini Municipality