Statement by Minister Mthethwa on the process of renaming airports and the ministry’s role in the matter

The issue of the renaming of Airports in the country has been one that has been topical in recent weeks. While numerous individuals and entities have added their voices to the deafening chorus of what airport names should be changed to what, the Ministry wishes to advise that Minister is closely monitoring the ongoing discussions including what has emanated from public consultations nationwide.

Firstly, Minister Nathi Mthethwa would like to express his thankfulness to the hundreds of people who have participated in the public consultation process to register their preferred names for the new name planned for Cape Town International Airport. It is encouraging to note that the name-changing process has deeply moved hundreds of citizens to play an active role in the country’s hard-earned participatory democracy. Now that we have finally reached the cut-off deadline, which was at midnight on the 6th of June 2018, Minister Mthethwa will go ahead to exercise his prerogative, guided by both the rule of law and the will of the people.

A name-change is a complex and sensitive issue. Meaning and Context of a Name-Change is significant, and in this regard, it should be noted that a name-change is an internationally accepted practice fully supported and endorsed by the United Nations that (i) countries have the sovereign right to standardize names and (ii) can decide what name to give for each feature in that country should be or how it should be spelt. In fact, the Truth & Reconciliation Commission recommended that the renaming of geographic features be a form of “symbolic reparation” to address an unjust past.

According to the South African Geographical Names Council Act (Act No. 118 of 1998) the Minister of Arts and Culture is responsible for the approval of geographical names after receiving recommendations from the South African Geographical Names Council (SAGNC).

“The renaming process always brings a contestation of ideas. The airport names in particular are more emotive. Our responsibility is that once the process has been followed through the SAGNC, we then have the final say, with all things including inputs considered. I am not surprised when people come up with different names for the renaming of airports, but in the final analysis there are things that need to be looked into with the recommendations from the council itself.” – Hon. Nathi Mthethwa

The SAGNC is only responsible for geographical features of national concern including, but not limited to, towns/cities, suburbs and any form of human settlement, post offices, stations, highways, airports and government dams.  The SAGNC is also responsible for natural landforms like mountains, hills, rivers, streams, bays, headlands and islands.

Since airports are administered by National Department of Transport through the Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) it is within their mandate to process their renaming through the South African Geographical Names Council.

Below are the steps that have and are currently being followed to effect the proposed name changes:

1)     The Minister/Department of Transport through ACSA should initiate consultation in relation to the proposed changes or coordinate any of such process from the public or any stakeholder.

2)     A notice in terms of Promotion of Administrative Justice Act of 2000 (where an intention to change the names will be stated clearly and the public will be asked to comment).  At the same time there should be consultation with all affected families whose names will be used to give written permission for use of those names and they can also advise on the format in which names should appear on signage (if some of the airports will be named after people).

3)     Once all the inputs have been collected the South African Geographical Names Council’s application forms should be completed taking into consideration the inputs from the public, stakeholders and affected families or their representatives.  Then the application form is taken to the relevant Geographical Names Provincial Committees (e.g. if an Airport is in Western Cape Then Western Cape Provincial Geographical Names Committee, KwaZulu-Natal then KZN Provincial Geographical Names Committee, Eastern Cape Then Eastern Cape Provincial Geographical Names Committee etc.) for processing.

4)     The relevant Provincial Committees will then forward the application forms to the South African Geographical Names Council (SAGNC) after they have checked that the applications comply with the guidelines as stated in the Handbook on Geographical Names.  For example, checking if the name is not offensive or a duplication of an existing one, proper consultation with relevant stakeholders etc.

5)     The South African Geographical Names Council will then take a decision on the proposals and recommend for the Minister of Arts and Culture’s approval or rejection taking into consideration the South African Geographical Names Council Act (Act No. 118 of 1998) and the Handbook on Geographical Names.

6)     Once the names have been approved by the Minister, they will then be published in the Government Gazette which will mean that they are official.  The Department of Transport and ACSA will then have to implement the official names as soon as possible.  This can take form of events to unveil the names and installing proper the airports and on relevant roads.

7)     The process can take up to 4 months if there are no legal challenges and objections.

8)     In terms of the Section 10 (3) any person or body dissatisfied with a geographical name approved by the Minister may, within one month from the date of publication of the geographical name in the Gazette, lodge a complaint in writing to the Minister.

9)     The Minister may refer the complaint to the Council for advice. Then the Minister must inform the complainant of the decision on the complaint and the reasons for the decision.

For further information, and interview requests please contact: Asanda Magaqa, Spokesperson for the Minister of Arts and Culture – 072 372 6807 and

Issued by the Department of Arts and Culture


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