South Africa, by any other name, would still need healing
SO OUR Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa, perhaps bored by the banality of his ministry and the mundaneness of his official routines, has come out with the brilliant suggestion that we should consider replacing the name of our country South Africa.
He proposes an even more brilliant replacement “Azania”!
What is Azania? It is a medieval Arabic name –meaning the Land of Zanj, ie the Land of Blacks – for the coast of east Africa and adjacent islands. The Zanj were east Africans, several thousands of whom were brought by Basran (Iraqi) land owners to drain the salt marshes east of Basra, approximately between 868 and 883 AD. The Zanj were subjected to heavy slavery by the Basran Arabs.
Around 869 AD , a Persian named Ali ibn Muhammad persuaded the Zanj to join with him on the promise of freedom and wealth to fight against the caliphal Basran armies.
Hence the famous Zanj rebellion. The rebels gained control of southern Iraq and also in Iran. But, by August 883, the black forces were finally crushed with the help of Egyptians who returned to Baghdad with Ali’s head.
These are the Azanians who distinguished themselves in both Basra and Iran that the honourable Mthethwa wants us to rename SA in their honour, as if we too shall perhaps be imbued with the labour and energy of the Basran Zanj.
But Mthethwa is not alone in this proposition. African People’s Convention leader, the Hon Themba Godi, chimes in to endorse Mthethwa.
However, we also know that others, like those of the Black Consciousness persuasion, are highly enthused of this idea. Hence the Azanian People’s Organisation (Azapo). But what is wrong with the name SA?
Mthethwa says it is not the name of a country but merely the “geographical description of where we are”. Perhaps just like Central African Republic? Or North Carolina? Or Eastern Cape? The real truth, though, behind the name change proposal seems to be that it was coined by colonial settlers; that it was the Anglo-Boer War veterans who coined the name.
A rose is a rose… etc. London is not a British name but a Roman one. Some would say the English were not squeamish about carrying the name imposed by Roman colonials. Remember Julius Caesar?
Even the name Nigeria is not African. It was coined by an English woman. Perhaps here some cynics could say “what would you expect from a country named by the wife of a colonial overlord?”
Well, if SA became Azania, what would change other than the name? Would corruption, incompetence, maladministration, political Mafioso-ism, and other forms of skulduggery come to an end?
The Mthethwas and Godis of our nation are fond of seducing themselves with mere symbols and decorations. They love papering over the cracks. SA is a heavily traumatised society. Frolicking with namechange gimmicks will not undo the great damage that apartheid and the Zupta scourge have inflicted on it.
Its wounded social psyche will not easily heal through these gimmicks. Maybe the Ghanaian writer was right: the beautiful ones are not yet born.
London is not a British name, but a colonial one…