The provincial and the national geographic names councils – and Art & Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa – had so badly bungled the process leading to Mthethwa’s decision to change the name of Grahamstown to Makhanda that his decision to do so should be set aside, it was argued in the Eastern Cape High Court (Grahamstown) yesterday.

City resident Sigidla Ndumo is challenging Mthethwa’s decision to follow the SA Geographic Names Council’s recommendation to rename Grahamstown Makhanda.

A Daily Dispatch report says Ndumo’s counsel, Advocate Izak Smuts, SC, said the provincial and national councils failed to follow a proper consultative process, and had therefore made an improper recommendation to the Minister, who had then himself ‘manifestly failed’ to comply with the requirements of administrative justice in making his decision.

Mthethwa’s decision was not rationally connected to the information before him when he made it or to the reasons he gave for it, Smuts argued, adding the process was flawed. The Eastern Cape Provincial Geographic Names Council called only one public meeting after two people, both city officials, applied for a name change.

It was attended by 167 people, of whom 33 were officials from various levels of government and the councils, says the Daily Dispatch report.

In June 2018, the Minister gazetted the name change. No mention was made in that gazette of the 30 days in which the public could tender objections, Smuts said. Nonetheless, the 'Keep Grahamstown Grahamstown' community group and about 10 000 others submitted objections.

But in October, the Minister confirmed his decision that the name would be changed to Makhanda.

‘The recommendations to the Minister were thus flawed for failure to comply with the established procedural requirements.’

Smuts raised another objection. He argued it was confusing that Makana municipality and the city under which it fell were named after the same person, but with two variants in the spelling of his name. This flew directly in the face of legislation which required that names be standardised in a way to avoid exactly such confusion, he said.

But counsel for Mthethwa, Advocate Nyameko Gqamana SC, argued that the process set out in legislation was followed to the letter.

‘Our Constitution was designed to facilitate justice and equality for all, and was never meant to be used when it could help advance illegitimate sectarian interest through legal stratagems.’

According to the Daily Dispatch report, he said the courts should frown upon the ‘never-ending determination to oppose change to city, town or street names because this militates against our constitutional project, which demands that we reject everything that sustained, entrenched and still promotes racial discrimination.’

Judge Murray Lowe reserved judgment.

Full Daily Dispatch report (subscription needed)