Mixed feelings on possible renaming of Ladysmith

“We have service delivery challenges coming out of our ears. The government is always saying there are no funds, but they are willing to spend millions of rand on a name change” - Anand Rajcoomar

A tourist reads up on history during a tour at The Hands Monument at the Battlefield re-launch in Ladysmith. Some residents and stakeholders said a possible name change of Ladysmith would compromise its rich industry. Picture: Tumi Pakkies/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Dec 13, 2023


A PROPOSED name change for Ladysmith to uMnambithi has been met with mixed reaction by the community.

The KZN Department of Sport, Arts and Culture (KZN DSAC), together with the KZN Geographical Names Committee, invited residents to comment on the proposed name change at meetings held from November 27 to December 1.

The town is currently known as both Ladysmith and Mnambithi.

Nathi Olifant, KZN DSAC spokesperson, said officially the town had not been renamed: “Ladysmith’s name has not been changed, but the decision to propose the name change was initiated by the residents around the Alfred Duma Local Municipality. The outcome of the vote cannot be disclosed at the present moment save to say thousands of people participated in the process.

“Consultation exercises had been conducted extensively with residents, local and district municipalities, amakhosi, religious leaders, old age homes and political leadership, to name just a few. The results will be first presented to the MEC by the KZN Provincial Geographic Names Committee (KZNPGNC) before it is referred to national for the minister to gazette it after further consultation on a national scale.”

According to Britannica.com Ladysmith was founded in 1850 after the British annexed the area; it was named after the wife of Harry Smith (then governor of Cape Colony).

According to Wikipedia, on August 3, 2016, Ladysmith was merged into the larger Alfred Duma Local Municipality. Important industries in the area include food processing, textiles, and tyre production. The town of Ladysmith is the economic hub of the municipality.

The POST spoke with some residents and community representatives, who largely expressed reservations about the possible renaming.

Anand Rajcoomar, councillor for Ward 11, said: “The community feedback on our WhatsApp groups was largely dissatisfied that money may be spent on an unimportant matter, at this point. Don’t get me wrong, it is not a trivial issue, but does it have to be done now? We have service delivery challenges coming out of our ears. The government is always saying there are no funds, but they are willing to spend millions of rand on a name change.

“Ladysmith is also steeped in history and known worldwide for its historical sites linked to the Boer, Afrikaner, English and Zulu history. It can prove its historical value to the country.

“Mnambithi is the name of a river. It is a fair name and it is a universal name. But if a name change is necessary, it should be done at a time when it is more financially viable to do so. With all that said, the vote was open and fair judging from the meetings I attended. We had the chance to voice our opinions. We had our chance and if it changes, unfortunately, we will have to accept it.”

Jennifer Wallace, spokesperson for the Northern KZN Chamber of Commerce, said: “The proposed timing for Ladysmith's name change is worrying. Business confidence is at an all-time low, with companies facing financial losses and anticipating job cuts. Service delivery is inconsistent, leaving residents and factories without water.

“Instead of investing in name changes, shouldn't government departments collaborate across levels to address these urgent issues and rebuild confidence? Let's prioritise solving these problems before considering name changes. Additionally, the government overlooks the unplanned costs these name changes impose on businesses.”

Ian Thurlow, a resident and former chairman of the Ladysmith Residents Association, said by changing the name of Ladysmith the town was going to lose its identity.

“The Siege of Ladysmith has huge historical connections. So certainly from that perspective, it is a waste to change the name. Our understanding is that if residents are unhappy after the results are released, you can make submissions and take it from there. But I think the general feeling is that government has already made up its mind.”

Olifant said there were other names proposed, but these did not qualify in terms of the South African Geographical Names Council Act, 1998 (Act 118 of 1998). The names that did not qualify included: “Yithi Abafana Basemnambithi” (Say the Boys of Mnambithi) and “Ladysmith Black Mambazo”.

The POST asked Olifant what the related cost of a name change would be. He referred the publication to the national DSAC.

Zimasa Velaphi, spokesperson for the national DSAC, said: “The Department of Sport, Arts and Culture, SAGNC, and the minister have not processed an application for the name change of Ladysmith. It is possible that a name change application is still being processed at the local level.

“Name change applications do not cost money apart from honoraria paid to members of the South African Geographical Names Council and a small fee for the publishing of government gazettes once the Minister has made decisions on names submitted to him for a decision.”

A statement on December 8, on the national department’s website said the SAGNC mandate was to lead the transformation of South Africa’s naming landscape.

“As we all know, many names of our villages, towns, and cities still reflect the languages and cultural heritage of both the colonial and apartheid administrations. One hundred and fifty-seven geographical names have been standardized throughout the country for the past three years.”

Some of the most recent name changes include Solomon Linda (previously Pomeroy, KZN), Gqeberha (previously Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape), King Phalo Airport (previously East London Airport, Eastern Cape) and KwaNojoli (previously Somerset East also in the Eastern Cape).