As the Airports Company of South Africa pursues the process of renaming Cape Town International Airport, the words of the Chinese leader Mao Zedong spring to mind: “Let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend.”
The quote is appropriate as the renaming of the airport gives all South Africans, but especially the people of the Western Cape and Capetonians in particular, the opportunity to suggest names that will hopefully unite the people of our country – but even more so our province.
The natural tendency would be for the hegemony of a particular political persuasion to prevail yet again. However, we must be wary of this and, if needs be, fight against it. We must, as the people of this beautiful province, take the opportunity to display our diversity and difference but also use the occasion to unite and acknowledge our common history and our destiny.
The proposals must therefore certainly not be restricted to political heroes and heroines, as important as they may be. We must be able to find names among the artists, sports people, cultural and academic leaders, among others. Besides well-known freedom fighters such as Nelson Mandela, Ahmed Kathrada and Walter Sisulu, other young people also left their mark on the liberation struggle. These somewhat unsung heroes often were left with no choice but to go into exile, leaving loved ones behind, simply to avoid persecution; or some were imprisoned.
One can think of people such as the lawyer and later minister, Dullah Omar, whose activism was not only left for the streets, rallies and meetings but whose site of struggle often included the courtroom, jails and visiting those banned in their homes. Who can forget the great Jakes Gerwel who declared the University of the Western Cape as the University of the Left and ensured that the doors of learning would be opened? Philip Kgosana led an anti-pass march of about 30,000 protesters from Langa and Nyanga along De Waal Drive on 30 March 1960.
South African pianist and composer Abdullah Ibrahim’s music reflects many of the influences of his childhood in the multicultural port areas of Cape Town, including traditional African music. Louis Tebogo Moholo, is a South African jazz drummer and was a member of several notable bands, including The Blue Notes, the Brotherhood of Breath and Assagai. Robert Edward Jansen was a South African musician born in Cape Town while Winston Monwabisi “Mankunku” Ngozi was a famous South African tenor saxophone player. Does the person need to have died? May we not pay tribute to people while they are alive?
Ashley Kriel’s work with the Bonteheuwel Inter-School Congress and their support of the United Democratic Front (UDF) brought him the unwanted attention of government security apparatus. Identified as a leader in the student protest movement, he went to Angola in 1985 for military training. Kriel died violently in a police ambush in Athlone, Cape Town, but even in death he found no peace. In death, the police were determined to not allow him to become a martyr.
What about Krotoa? Niece to Autshumao, the great Khoi leader, Krotoa served her people and advanced their cause. She is notably one of the first woman leaders of resistance in South Africa. Zainunnisa “Cissie” Gool is another anti-apartheid and civil rights leader who grew up in Cape Town and who later represented District Six on the city until 1951, then the only black woman on Council.
Musician and artist Brenda Fassie hailed from Langa and sang hope at a time when the townships were on fire and young people were arrested in their numbers. Olive Schreiner was an author and intellectual who advocated for the rights of those alienated by British imperialism while writer and poet Ingrid Jonker used Afrikaans to fight for justice and advocate for the freedom of all.
Rahima Moosa was no ordinary worker as she served as shop steward for the Food and Canning Worker’s Union, together with fellow trade unionist Ayesha Bibi, who was a prominent woman’s activist. Aunty Lizzy Abrahams, Coline Williams, Dulcie September, Pat Gorvalla, and Sophie de Bruyn – flowers in the bed of our beautiful province. Novelist Bessie Head, whose work was first noticed when writing for Drum magazine, would later go on to write a number of novels including The Cardinals while a resident in District Six.
Airports are places were one is either coming or going. Recently the Western Cape, and Cape Town in particular, has been marred with divisions among communities. Yet as the citizens of the Mother City and this picturesque province we have been given an opportunity to rename one of our landmarks. We must use it to unite. We know where we have come from, let us unite, for it is there that we must go. DM
Andile Ndevu is Ubuntu Youth Development (NPO) Executive Director