Potholes, burnt-out buildings, bird flu – there’s a renaming solution for all of Joburg’s problems
The old William Nicol Drive is now Winnie Mandela Drive. Let’s see what else needs a new moniker slapped on.
How cheering it was to see a bunch of ANC bigwigs, small wigs and no wigs, dressed in their finest world-class finery, celebrating the renaming of William Nicol Drive as Winnie Madikizela-Mandela Drive.
It’s always heartwarming to see a solid renaming in the name of a struggle hero – it takes our minds off problems like having no electricity, no water, no money, no hope and, goddammit, no eggs.
Yes, the actual sign on the kerb, the lettering of the name Winnie, etc, was apparently done in haste, and there were a few artful drips of black paint still easing their way down towards the gutter. But done in haste is surely better than not done at all.
The ANC has only been contemplating this renaming for about 10 years now, so it’s wonderful that, in its great haste to make a coalition government for Joburg with the EFF, usually its mortal enemy, this demand of the EFF reached the top of the to-do list.
In the course of this process it emerged that William Nicol was an apartheid apparatchik, so, even though absolutely no one had the faintest idea who he was until then, it was obviously a good idea to rename this road – a key thoroughfare through the northern suburbs of Johannesburg, the richest part of the city and the area most beloved of ANC high-ups, even if they also have palatial homes in Pretoria and/or Cape Town.
Durban, as it crumbles into its sewage-polluted sea, could be Zandile Gumede City.
It’s an area of high walls and huge swimming pools, also deeply loved by EFF commander-in-chief Julius Malema, who lives somewhere nearby – somewhere between the start of William, er, Winnie Drive, where it diverges from Jan Smuts Avenue, and the turn-off to Sandton City.
Juju can now jump in the back of his chauffeured limo and within seconds he’s on a great road named after his favourite Struggle Mama, and drive or be driven on Winnie Madikizela-Mandela Drive all the way to Montecasino, where, if he so desires, he can gamble away all that stolen VBS money in the name of the poorest of the poor.
Hang on a sec, though – I’m not sure Great North Road has been given the full extended remixed Winnie moniker. Don’t forget that she rejigged her surname some time after she divorced Nelson so she could add in her maiden name and remind everyone she was Xhosa royalty. And thus she became double-barrelled, like a shotgun.
But I don’t think the road sign-makers of the City of Joburg had enough signage to accommodate the full double barrel, so Winnie’s post-divorce choice of name has been dishonoured.
At any rate, this got me thinking about renamings. How badly we need them in this time of despair and rage! And why, after all, stop at roads? We’ve had hospitals renamed and a couple of cities too, and that seemed to go well – even though the challenges white people have in pronouncing Gqeberha are a reminder of the perils of mother tongue basic education.
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Look, we could be renaming hosts of things. Key bits of Joburg, the city I know best, could be given the facelift of a new name, and we’ll forget all about their sad and sordid histories – which is the point, right?
A large building in the centre of Johannesburg burnt down, as everyone knows, and 77 people died in that fire. There has been a lot of muttering about how the city government neglected its duties in this regard – how it let such hijacked buildings go on being hijacked and run by gangsters. But considering the ANC, EFF and Patriotic Alliance, which now rule the city, proceed on the basis of hijacking and gangsterism, that’s not too insurmountable a problem.
The burnt-out shell of that building could be happily renamed after one of our former mayors, say. One of those who did so little for the city and the people who live there, focusing as they did on sharing out infrastructure budgets with their cronies.
It’s probably best to ignore the five or six fly-by-night mayors we’ve had since 2021 and go back to a mayor who had a solid tenure over several years, so let’s say that burnt-out building becomes the Parks Tau Memorial Slum Block.
And we don’t need to stick with actual elements of the built environment in this renaming business. It would behoove us, in fact, to get conceptual about it and to name a few crises or fuck-ups after some leading figures in provincial or national government. That will surely help us get a handle on these issues.
Every long-drop toilet in the country could be renamed a Nomvula! Every blocked drain could be a Mokonyane!
As the city suffers without water and its occupants develop terminal dehydration, along with a lot of dirt between their toes, we think back to that great minister of water and sanitation affairs who also deserves to have something named after her, even though she’s still alive, as far as one can tell, and we usually do this to honour or dishonour the dead.
It is Nomvula Mokonyane of whom I speak, and she was also a premier of Gauteng, so there are two good reasons to name this crisis after her.
She was known as Mama Action, after all, though most of her actions had to do with ordering the preparation of great feasts of frozen chicken pieces sent over by Bosasa.
She was the inaugural minister of water and sanitation, when then president Jacob Zuma proliferated the ministries and it became a department unto itself.
Why keep calling the utility that can’t get enough water to South Africa’s economic hub by the bland old name Rand Water? It could be called the Nomvula Mokonyane Urban Drought Agency.
Mind you, now that we have a chicken and egg shortage (which came first?), there’s a link to Mama Action there too. Why blame avian flu? We could rename it Nomvula Mokonyane Disease.
And think of the sanitation element, too. Every long-drop toilet in the country could be renamed a Nomvula! Every blocked drain could be a Mokonyane!
The possibilities are endless. KwaZulu-Natal could become Jacob Zuma Province. Durban, as it crumbles into its sewage-polluted sea, could be Zandile Gumede City.
Every pothole in Joburg could be named for a member of the mayoral council, though I don’t suppose there are enough of them – MMCs, I mean, not potholes. We have an endless supply of those.
Come on, people, let’s get creative. DM
Shaun de Waal is a writer and editor.
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.