It was so very, very close. Just 30 minutes more and we'd have had closure on the whole is-it-Pretoria-or-is-it-Tshwane thing. Aside from the court cases, petitions, recriminations and general ill-feeling, of course.
So there we were, fully expecting Deputy Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mashatile to finally – finally! – settle the whole debate on Pretoria’s name. His people had invited everybody to a media conference on new geographic names to be changed, and Pretoria had to be on top of that list. Also, we’d said so in First Thing, so it must be true, right?
And so we drove through the streets of Pretoria/Tshwane, trying to count the number of signs using each (score: Pretoria, very few; Tshwane, even the panel beaters in Arcadia), down into the parking lot of the Tshwane/Pretoria headquarters of Arts and Culture and up in the lift to levels of the building from where you’ve got a pretty good view of the downtown of Pretoria/Tshwane.
Alas, alack, the event had been cancelled, 35 minutes before the start time, and five minutes before we arrived. No explanation, no excuses, no estimate of when it would actually take place. Just functionaries who fail to see the irony.
The irony, of course, is that it is the inability of the Department of Arts and Culture to make a decision on the name change, or even the process to be followed to decide on whether there should be one, that got us into this mess in the first place. Everybody else has chosen a side. Tshwane City Council: Tshwane. Afriforum and other FF+ aligned entities: Pretoria. Even Fifa has made a choice: it is sitting on the fence, insisting that all signposts must at least refer to Tshwane/Pretoria so as to not confuse tourists.
The ANC has made the firmest choice of all. It decreed that the name shall be changed, forthwith and double quick and certainly before the advent of the World Cup. Because, you know, it’s important for foreigners to know that we have escaped from under the boot heel of the Pretorius or praetorian or whoever the hell the place is named after.
And therein lies the puzzle. Everyone at the top of Arts and Culture are ANC cadres deployed at the pleasure of the ANC. All the, ahem, “counter-revolutionary” elements that oppose the name change stand outside of decision-making structures. True, due process wasn’t followed in making the decision, but it’s hardly the first time that’s happened. The simple answer is to force through the process before a final court injunction can be granted, then complain of the fiscal burden of rolling the whole thing back while instituting a hastily-assembled consultation process, which is easily rigged.
So why are we still stuck in this morass? Honestly? You really want to know? For once we have not the faintest idea. But tell you what, we’ll be stalking Paul Mashatile like crazy for the next couple of weeks.
By Phillip de Wet
If you’d like to know what we think of Paul Mashatile’s future, well, the headline says it all: The end is nigh for Paul Mashatile