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Grahamstown Officially Renamed After Xhosa Warrior Makhanda kaNxele

‘The name of John Graham is one that evokes unimaginable pain’

Grahamstown has officially been renamed to Makhanda by Arts and Culture Minister, Nathi Mthethwa.

In a statement, Mthethwa explained why the name change was imminent and ‘Makhanda’ was a more fitting name choice.

‘The town formerly known as ‘Grahamstown’ is named after Lieutenant-Colonel John Graham whose role in the Frontier Wars was to exercise the ‘maximum degree of terror’ on the Xhosa natives and who was and is still infamous for his methods to ‘break the back of the native’ by employing the most savage means imaginable, including liberally employing the ‘scorched earth policy’ against those he conquered – burning their homes, their crops, their livestock and homes, before murdering the warriors he met in battle, and butchering even women and children in a mass extermination of a people – whose descendants can still be found in the area,’ reports IOL.

‘The name of John Graham is one that evokes unimaginable pain,’ Mthethwa said.

As stated on The Citizen, the proposed name change was announced in July when the department said there had been a 20-year call for it to take place. It said the name should be changed due to some people being opposed to the painful history the founder of Grahamstown epitomised.

Mthethwa has also advised the some 300 objectors that he would refer each complaint to the South African Geographical Names Council (SAGNC) for further advice as directed by the South African Geographical Names Act of 1998.

‘The historical sentiments and arguments around heritage values were noted,’ said Mthethwa.

‘While it is indeed the Department of Arts and Culture’s mandate to promote and preserve our heritage, we cannot allow these sentiments to undermine government’s transformational agenda on the country’s heritage landscape.

‘Standardisation of geographical names forms part of a broader government transformation programme toward addressing the imbalances of the past, and it forms part of the symbolic reparations as recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.’

Background On Makhanda Ka Nxele

‘What South Africans ought to know is that the name change of the town to Makhanda is the fulfilling of the prophecy of Ukubuya kuka Nxele (“The return of Nxele”). Makhanda was a warrior, war doctor, philosopher and prophet whose heroics in the Frontier Wars included an attack on a British garrison at the locality.

‘Makhanda ka Nxele was imprisoned in (and would later die while escaping from) Robben Island a few years shy of some 100 years before the founding fathers of South Africa’s liberation including Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Andrew Mlangeni, Elias Motsoaledi, Robert Sobukwe and many gallant and honourable fighters in the struggle for liberation were imprisoned there.

‘The renaming of this town will ensure that Makhanda ka Nxele’s memory is immortalised, and rightfully so,’ said Mthethwa on Tuesday.

Decolonising Historically Oppressive Institutions

The renaming of Grahamstown is not a small feat and we need to be cognisant of how #RhodesMustFall in 2015 has significantly paved the way for a wider movement in decolonising oppressive institutions. The campaign was sparked by the need to decolonise education in South Africa. Historically and presently, South Africa is enamoured with historic statues and places named after its oppressors and dismantling either/or is a small symbol of transformation following colonialism and apartheid.

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