HomeOld_PostsIndependence and legacy of colonial names

Independence and legacy of colonial names

Published on

By Patience Rusare

WHEN Zimbabwe attained independence from the British in 1980, the new black leadership faced many social, economic and political challenges which needed to be addressed.
Immediate attention was given to the need to reverse the colonial legacy of racial discrimination in accessing resources and services, but there were other subtle heritages, such as place names, which needed to be addressed if total independence was to be realised.
However, 35 years on, the process of deconstructing the legacy of colonial names is still incomplete and a lot remains to be done in this respect for the country to reflect its true black heritage.
The process of renaming towns and other significant places began in earnest in 1982.
A Place Names Commission was set up during the early 1980s under the auspices of the National Monuments Committee to advise the government on how to dispose of the vestiges of the colonial past.
Some of the proposed new names were not new as they had been used by the indigenous people for centuries.
Salisbury, the country’s capital city, which had been named after a former British Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, was, renamed Harare after a Shona chief, Neharawa.
Fort Victoria, was renamed Masvingo (a Shona word for ruins) in recognition of the town’s proximity to the Great Zimbabwe Monument which is a symbol of national pride to the Zimbabwean people.
However, other places retained English names, for example, Victoria Falls, Beitbridge, West Nicholson, Plumtree, Banket, Featherstone, Beatrice, Norton and Birchneough Bridge.
Victoria Falls, named after Britain’s Queen Victoria, was initially renamed Mosi-oa-Tunya before reverting back to the colonial name.
Towns which had retained local names, but in corrupted form during the colonial era had these corrected to reflect the correct Shona pronunciation and to also restore their historical significance.
These included Gatooma to Kadoma, Marandellas to Marondera, Umtali to Mutare, Gwelo to Gweru, Sipolilio to Chipuriro, Shabanie to Zvishavane and Inyanga to Nyanga.
Infrastructure such as roads, office blocks and streets were partially affected as many of them still bear colonial names.
Roads that had been named after prominent settlers and British personalities such as Rhodes, Jameson, Salisbury, Stanley, Baker, Montague, Moffat and others were renamed after liberation war heroes, nationalists and historical figures such as Kaguvi, Nehanda, Herbert Chitepo, Leopold Takawira, Joshua Nkomo, Robert Mugabe, Rekai Tangwena, Jason Moyo, Simon Mazorodze, Samuel Parirenyatwa, Josiah Chinamano and Josiah Tongogara.
Other streets were named after regional leaders such as Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Samora Machel of Mozambique, Nkwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Sam Nujoma of Namibia and Nelson Mandela of South Africa.
Cecil Square in Harare was renamed Africa Unity Square, perhaps in the spirit of pan-Africanism which had been demonstrated during the African liberation struggles and thereafter.
Public buildings, such as hospitals and government office blocks were also renamed to reflect the face of the new political order.
These included Andrew Fleming Hospital which was renamed Samuel Parirenyatwa, after one of the first black medical doctors to take an active role in the anti-colonial struggle.
Earl Grey Building in Harare was renamed Mukwati.
Some public buildings constructed after independence were given local names, for example, Mhlahlandlela, a complex of government offices in Bulawayo.
However, the attempt to rebrand the country seems to have stalled as most colonial names have largely remained unaltered.
Many buildings in cities and towns still bear colonial names, for example, Tredgold and Rotten Row buildings both of which house magistrates’ courts in Bulawayo and Harare respectively.
While street names, especially in the Central Business Districts (CBDs) of most urban areas were changed, the changes are less felt as one moves out of the city centre into the avenues.
Names such as Charter Road, Cameron Street, Connaught Avenue, Robertson, Hughes, Blakiston, Hellett and Hoffmeyer still dominate the country’s cities.
In addition, many of the former white suburbs retained their colonial names, for example, Avondale, Belvedere, Marlborough, Belgravia, Mount Pleasant, Kensington, Windsor Park, Ascot, Bellevue, Montrose, Greystone Park, and Yeovil.
And within them, the old street names have been retained wholesale, for example, such streets as Chelmsford, Harold, Norfolk, Nottingham, St James, Livingstone, George, MacDonald, Clark and Cecil.
Sadly even some new low density suburbs built after 1980 also bear colonial names, for example, Selborne Park in Bulawayo and Borrowdale Brook and Mount Pleasant Heights in Harare.
Hence, the colonial legacy in these areas has remained largely intact.
Many of these suburbs, although now largely inhabited by blacks have continued to be enclaves of colonial cultures and values.
Children living in those suburbs are referred to as ‘masalads’ meaning that they have a taste for Western foods rather than the local traditional foods.
They are generally out of touch with the local cultures and seem to be more comfortable with Western and foreign things, for example, the English language as the main medium of communication even among an all-black gathering, a slavish appetite for Western fashion and forms of entertainment.
Furthermore in 2002, there was determined resistance by some sections of both black and white communities to the attempt of replacing English names, especially of former white schools and bestow them with indigenous that glorified the country’s history.
These schools bore names of ‘British imperialists’ such as Allan Wilson, Cecil John Rhodes, Prince Edward, Jameson, Hamilton and Queens Victoria and Elizabeth.
It was proposed that Prince Edward School be renamed Murenga Boys High in memory of the Njelele Spirit medium who is believed to have instigated and directed the First Chimurenga of 1896-97.
Mount Pleasant was to become Joshua Nkomo in honour of the late Vice-President who had pioneered the nationalist movement in colonial Zimbabwe.
Warren Park Primary School was to be renamed Chenjerai Hunzvi Primary School after the self-styled Zimbabwean National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) leader.
Allan Wilson was to be renamed Mutapa Boys High, Queen Elizabeth to Sally Mugabe, Milton High to Khumalo High, King George V1 to Lookout Masuku, Cecil John Rhodes to Gweru Primary and Queensdale Primary to Safirio Madzikatire Primary.
David Livingstone Junior was to be renamed to Guy Clutton-Brock Primary while Umvukwes Primary was to be Border Gezi Primary.
Many could not hear of it.
School administrators and parents were worried about schools losing their status and lustre that came with the names.
There were also fears that some schools which had traditionally relied on donations from Western well-wishers and sympathisers risked losing this assistance if the name changes were implemented.
But for how long shall we continue to sell our heritage for a song, 35 years after independence?

Latest articles

The ideological war rages on

EDITOR’S NOTE With Professor Pfukwa   IT is a fact that the Rhodesians did not die. Rhodies will...

Pope must keep out of gay war

COMMENT THE Vatican has shocked the world by approving the blessing of same-sex couples by...

Black South Africans must learn to appreciate

EDITOR — BLACK South Africans, you may complain about the ANC, but the fact...

Geingob and the land question

THE death of Namibian President Hage Geingob on February 4 was a devastating loss...

More like this

The ideological war rages on

EDITOR’S NOTE With Professor Pfukwa   IT is a fact that the Rhodesians did not die. Rhodies will...

Pope must keep out of gay war

COMMENT THE Vatican has shocked the world by approving the blessing of same-sex couples by...

Black South Africans must learn to appreciate

EDITOR — BLACK South Africans, you may complain about the ANC, but the fact...