Over the past week we have received significant comment on some proposed changes to the names of streets, facilities and even the municipality. Whilst some of the comment is not even worthy of response it is very important to make sure everyone understands exactly what the process is so that they may properly contribute to what is an important part of building our city.

1. THE PROCESS TO RENAME STREETS HAS BEEN ACCEPTED BY ALL COUNCILLORS IN ETHEKWINI MUNICIPALITY:

In February 2007 eThekwini’s Council agreed on a process to review and finalise names for streets and facilities in our city.  In brief, the process required that after inviting comments from the public, the relevant council committee would review names received, make a recommendation to Council after which such names would be finalized. It must be noted that all political parties represented in council accepted this process and through this accepted there would be renaming.

2. THE PROCESS INVITED COMMENTS FROM ALL MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC:

Adverts ran on March 9, 2007 in major local newspapers calling on the public to put forward proposals for the renaming of roads, streets, freeways, municipal buildings, community halls, parks and other public places within the municipal region. Posters were also placed in different Sizakala centres and libraries. The public was encouraged to  email, fax, post or even hand-deliver to these centres.

The closing date for submissions was the 30th March 2007, giving the public 21 days to engage with the municipality. And even after this closing date, a few submissions were also considered.

A total of 245 proposals were received. Some were disqualified because   they failed to adhere to the set criteria, itself guided by the law. The disqualified included names of living persons, duplicate names and new proposals which did not refer to the old names.  Some proposals were made by single individuals and some came from organizations. 

Some political parties simply forwarded what their branch structures had suggested and indicated that they would only formulate their views collectively when the matters were dealt with by Council.  Some political parties made no submissions at all.

3. BEFORE CONSIDERING WHICH NAMES WOULD BE ACCEPTED BY COUNCIL IT WAS AGREED THAT THE PUBLIC WOULD BE INVITED TO COMMENT ON THE SPECIFIC NAMES RECEIVED

After considering the views received from the public in response to the adverts and discussing the matter with my colleagues within the administration, I decided to recommend to committee that before they properly consider each and every suggestion received, that they publish the names received for comment in order to ensure that all members of the public would have an opportunity to air their views on every name under consideration. 
This changed the process already agreed upon, but I believe it allowed for even greater participation as the public could now comment on the suggestions received from a wide range of sources, before committee considered each name submitted.

Councillors would then be better informed when considering each specific suggestion about views that they received, whether they were criticisms or support for the names received.  It is not true that there are any secret submissions or that I have refused to make available the submissions received. 

After discussions with my Head: Legal I was informed that in order to make available to a third party the actual submissions received I must first ask the person if they are happy to make it available.  If they are not I will still make their submission available but without their name or contact details.

The committee accepted my report allowing for this additional consultation until 11th May 2007.  After that the committee will meet and consider each and every recommendation and comment thereon, and forward their views to Council for finalization.  Obviously, further names can continue to be received and will follow similarly consultative processes.

4. PROBLEMS WITH OBJECTIONS RECEIVED TO DATE

4.1 MANY OBJECTIONS ARE ABOUT PRINCIPLE OF RENAMING NOT ABOUT SPECIFIC NAMES: 

Over 95% of the objections received to date have objected to the principle of renaming.  Given that council unanimously accepted that some streets would be renamed there is little point in members of the public simply sending in general complaints that they don’t want streets renamed.  This included all political parties represented on Council. Council has accepted that some streets will be renamed and it is unlikely that council will rescind that decision.  May I therefore urge that members of the public provide specific comment in support or not of specific suggestions for street renaming.

4.2 ARGUMENTS THAT THESE PROPOSED NAMES ARE A FAIT ACCOMPLI AND THAT IT IS POINTLESS FOR MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC TO OBJECT AS THEIR VIEWS WILL NOT BE CONSIDERED: 

As indicated above, the committee has not sat and deliberated on each and every name yet and so it is important for members of the public to put forward their views.  Specific views will have to be assessed and so this is an important opportunity for people to provide specific reasons.

4.3 ARGUMENTS THAT SOME NAMES ARE REPEATED: 

As indicated above, different people/organizations may have made suggestions about renaming.  This meant that some streets have more than one name, one name has been suggested for more than one street/facility, etc.  Clearly the committee will have to look at this because the intention is not to have such as it would lead to confusion.

4.4 ARGUMENTS THAT SUGGEST ALL THE CITY’S STREETS ARE BEING RENAMED: 

eThekwini has over 30000 street names, with over 4000 being located in the former Durban central area.  Even if all the proposals were to be accepted by the committee, this would mean less than 1 percent of the city’s street names would be changed and the rest would have been named during the colonial and apartheid eras.

I trust that over the next two weeks the public focuses on the consultative opportunities provided by this process and that we receive submissions which will allow the committee to clearly and unemotionally decide on which streets will be renamed and what names they will be given. This is an important aspect of public participation afforded us by our democracy.

Dr. Michael Sutcliffe

City Manager: eThekwini