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What’s in a Name?

One interpretation of Mpe’s meticulous description of Hillbrow as a neighborhood, its boundaries and street names is that he not only wanted to paint a visual picture for the reader of this actual place in Johannesburg but he also wanted to place the reader into the mind of the colonized. The names of the streets in many ways did not sound natural in an African city, in an African country, on the African continent. The city of Johannesburg and its many places are all defined by a white colonial history. The city of Johannesburg much like the rest of South Africa is in the process of renaming streets, rivers, mountains, and cities. It is a process that many argue need to take place so that black South Africans can reclaim not only their homeland but their minds as well. And, for me that is why Mpe’s description of Hillbrow is so poignant in a post-apartheid South Africa. So, this notion of space and place in the city poses several interesting questions. What is the import in a name? Is changing street names a waste of time and money?  How does one begin to own a place? I would love to hear your thoughts!


Posted by Sydney Cramer on

I think that taking steps like this to regain control over a culture can have pros and cons. On one hand, it is important to make sure that the people that have gone through such unspeakable things feel like they are being respected, and have a chance to take back what was taken from them. In this case, I think these street names have such a significance because they are a constant reminder of what once was. On the other hand, there is a fine line between making things right again, and erasing history. Reading your excerpt reminded me a lot of the Holocaust, and how some people refuse to acknowledge that it happened at all. Changing the names of these street signs could be the first part of “erasing” the history behind the Apartheid. I think it is important to respect the wishes of the victims of the Apartheid, but I also think it is important to continue to teach youth about what it was so it is never forgotten, and never repeated.
-Sydney Cramer

Posted by Kendal Sohn on

I think that changing street names could have an impact, however, I personally believe that ‘owning’ a place really comes from one’s mind. My opinion obviously is from a completely different perspective than those in Hillbrow, but I think that if they know that they now own the place, there is not a need for changing street names. I understand how changing the street names would help, and in a way, it rids them of reminders of a horrible time, which can help the healing process. In end, I don’t know what they should do because they have different thoughts and opinions from me, but I think they should do whatever helps them most.

Posted by Dylan Holt on

Changing street names would be a good thing to do for the neighborhood. As you mentioned, these street names often do not have anything to do with the people who are actually living there, often times they are white figures of authority. This feeds into an attitude that the black people living there are “lesser” than the whites, sometimes even without them knowing it. If someone grows up seeing only one type of people being praised or seen as higher-up, then they will start to believe this themselves. Changing the street names will help to stop this, and it should be done. -Dylan Holt

Posted by Nathan on

I think that taking these steps could be very beneficial because it shows the government is trying to work towards a more equal country. Even small things like street names can help the government gain more support to continue to take more steps. Sometimes it is important to keep some indications that this struggle actually happened. This is because it is important that the apartheid is not forgotten so it does not happen again. Overall though it is very beneficial to the society as a whole to take these steps. I though this post was interesting and helpful. It gives me a new view on the current government in South Africa and I continue to want to learn more about present day South Africa.
– Nathan Perkoski

Posted by Alex Brady on

It’s bizarre that when white Europeans came over to South Africa to colonize the country that they tried to make everything European, including something so irrelevant like street names. They didn’t want the South Africans to have any self culture and they wanted them to incorporate white culture into their lives. Thankfully many of these European street names are being renamed with more native street names.

Posted by Ellie Garry on

I think changing the names of the streets could be very beneficial to the community. It could show that South Africa is trying to change and really except the black population. I could also see the other side of this issue though which is that by changing the street names it could be seen as getting rid of history, terrible history that should never be forgotten. So when it comes to this issue of the street names I don’t have a defendant yes or no answer to if they should be changed or not. I think whatever the actual South African citizens living they want is what should be done.

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