South Africa, by any other name, would still need heal­ing

The Star Early Edition - - LETTERS - Pro­fes­sor Themba Sono

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…


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