I get lost in Cape Town as it is. I have just got to know the street names after living here for decades – now they're changing, whines a distraught Susan Erasmus.
OK – I do know it's not all about me (even if sometimes I think it should be). I do realise that it might be a bit tricky to give your address as 147 Hendrik Verwoerd Rylaan. It is reminiscent of an era of men in dark suits and black hats, and people being terrorised under the Group Areas Act. In fact, I am surprised the street name has survived this long. Same goes for Hertzog Boulevard, named after Barry Hertzog, whose son Albert made Verwoerd look like a free-thinking leftie.
I feel the same way about the prefix 'NY' streets in Guguletu. Few people know it originally stood for 'Native Yard' – a name that reflects previous governments' attitude to townships and the people who lived in them. I worked in NY108 in Guguletu for four years before I found out what the street name stood for. I was horrified. But here's the problem: everyone knows where it is.
Everyone knows where Lansdowne Road is, and Vanguard Drive and Castle Street. But they are about to be changed to Imam Haron Road, Govan Mbeki Road and Krotoa Street respectively. My head is spinning already and I am not even driving. I know we need to honour our heroes and our history, but isn't there a simpler and a cheaper way?
I have nothing whatsoever against any of the three people mentioned above. In fact, I know that their contribution to this country was far more spectacular than mine has ever been or will ever be. But I am not sure they would want to be commemorated by crowds of confused drivers and pedestrians swearing in public.
Change highway names
I say by all means change the names of the highways: it's the least we can do for the likes of Nelson Mandela and Christiaan Barnard (now called Oswald Pirow Boulevard) who really put this country on the map. And, anyway, hands up everyone who can tell me offhand who Oswald Pirow was and why he deserves to get a boulevard when I don't.
Name changes are clearly necessary. There will be no Adolf Hitler Streets in Germany for obvious reasons. But do we have to go so far as to change the names of minor and seemingly inoffensive roads such as Port Road and Long Street (Mowbray)? And Selwyn Road in Woodstock is to become Fort Knokke Road. A committee of 18 people was paid to give advice on these. Really.
Spare a thought for my friend who lives in Observatory in Milner Road. It's a small street next to the railway line and close to the station. It has been proposed that this street name be changed to SV Petersen Street. I have nothing against SV Petersen. He wrote some beautiful poetry. At the same time Milner also got some very bad press during and after the Anglo-Boer War, but still - few people would really know now who he was.
In practical terms this means my friend would have to change her postal address on all documents and accounts, such as ID books, bank accounts, voters' roll, shop accounts and so forth. This could take days, and also cost some money and time off work. I doubt whether the city council will be footing this bill.
In most cases, though, the committee seems to have had the good sense to rename the streets in commemoration of fallen heroes. It is always dangerous to name something after someone who still is alive and active in politics. Ask the University of Stellenbosch who named their new Liberal Arts Building in the late seventies after BJ Vorster. By the time the building was opened, he had fallen from grace and hardly anyone attended the building's inauguration. But they were stuck with the name for quite a while.
In early 1980 a large red graffito appeared on the building that said "The John". That says it all.
One good thing that might come from all these name changes is I might finally be persuaded that I need a GPS in my life. Otherwise I might be making calls that go something like this:
"I am sorry I am late, but I have been driving around between Imam Haron Road and Govan Mbeki Drive for an hour. I think I am now close to the Bonte-Langa Footbridge and I need you to come and fetch me."
What I will probably get on the other side of the phone is an intelligent response such as:
Now we can blame this too on politicians. Life is fabulous.
(Susan Erasmus, Health24, February 2012)