Renaming South Africa
Zim Ngqawana: We used to question the name, the name of this country that has never been looked at or an attempt to change it and yet streets have been renamed you know, but the actual name for the country, even the continent, you know, we have always had problems with that: Africa, South Africa. The origin of the name Africa can you share that with us? Where does it come from? What does it mean? Africa? African? South Africa?
Es’kia Mphalele: Well South Africa is a geographical description of the part of Africa, not so?
Lefifi Tladi: There was South West Africa too.
Es’kia Mphahlele: South West Africa, East Africa, and West Africa, those were multiple countries in a region but this is one country, South Africa so it just came to stay. Now Africa itself comes from Latin, comes from the Romans. You know how the Roman empire spread throughout a very large part of Africa, North Africa which is closer to Rome, and the Middle East and so on. And up to England, it created a whole empire. Now, names are names, we borrow names, and they become our tools, they become our possessions. OK, I am not particularly thrilled by “South Africa” as a name and I think we can get a better name, but the question is can we really spend much time, so much time, on debating a name when there is so much else to do. Very important things to do. If we do things the name will grow out of that. We don’t do anything so no name is going to grow out of our cultural development. We are not doing much. So let us not debate the name South Africa until we ourselves have organised our cultural development so well that the name itself becomes a natural development of it, and we will know what to call it.
Zim Ngqawana: Culturally speaking you know the importance of the name, when a child is born. I would imagine at this re-birth that we should emphasize on the name. I mean I know in my tradition when your wife is pregnant for those nine months the husband has to be in that state of meditation so he has to come up with the right name that will resonate positively to the child when that name is resounded.
Es’kia Mphahlele: Sure, there’s no doubt about that, but that’s when we talk about individuals. When we talk about a country we’re talking about a collective of people. We then have to modify our thinking, that’s the way I see it. Modify our way of thinking so that we arrive at the right kind of name which will still resonate our history but it won’t resonate a static history, it will resonate a history in motion, a history in action, a dynamic history that goes on.
Lefifi Tladi: Going back to what uZim was saying here, I think that when SWAPO took over they didn’t wait that, let this South West Africa continue and then we will see what will come out of it, they called it Namibia and the white people who are living there they realised that they are in another country and I think the perception of white people in South Africa hasn’t changed, they think they are still in South Africa.
Es’kia Mphahlele: I agree with you. Yes.
Lefifi Tladi: The naming of a country: When people said they were Zimbabweans, not Southern Rhodesians.
Zim Ngqawana: What happened to Azania and all the other names that came with that? And also I would like to know finally, the meaning of Africa itself?
Es’kia Mphahlele: The meaning of Africa? Nobody’s ever, really, as far as I know, our historians haven’t dug into that except that we happen to know that this is what the Romans called the continent and so we just adopted it. We don’t know exactly where, what brought it into life.
Lefifi Tladi: There’s another explanation, if I may punctuate, that I read in another book that actually this word is an anagram, when you write it and mix it, all of it, you find AF RI KA becomes KA FI RA, which is a derogatory way of looking at these non-believers that were on this continent.
Es’kia Mphahlele: The Arabic is kafir.
Lefifi Tladi: Kafir. And this guy, I don’t know much about linguistics and things, but he was saying if you say Kafira, that’s his own opinion, but it makes sense from my…