Around the middle of the 18th century the followers of Rhahabe defeated those of Hoho, the Khoi “Queen”, in the vicinity of what is now Queenstown.
Around the middle of the 18th century the followers of Rhahabe defeated those of Hoho, the Khoi “Queen”, in the vicinity of what is now Queenstown. They thereafter established dominance over the region to the west, including seasonal grazing across the area known to the trekboers as the Suurveldt as the grasses tend to be nutritious only in summer.
About the same time, the English were brutally putting down rebellion in Scotland and introducing the tartan kilt in order to distinguish the friendly from the less friendly clans. The Graham family presumably supported the English.
The little encampment around Lucas Meyer's farm was named “Grahamstad” by the mainly Dutch pastoralists and farmers in the area, in recognition of the Captain who led the troops that drove the Xhosa pastoralists across the Fish River. The “20 000 Xhosa casualties”, like that of “10 000 warriors” under Makhanda's command, is a figment rather than a reliable figure, unsustained by any evidence.
Moving on, the first proponent of a name change for Grahamstown was a descendant of clans, which supported the British in their conquest of the Eastern Cape, and which benefitted thereby with land, education and employment – including a substantial number of plots in Grahamstown. He himself was a product of mission and British education, well known for his taste for good pipe tobacco and single malt whisky.
As one would predict, President Mbeki's proposal was picked up by Mr Kate, the then mayor, who declared that even if it cost R1 million to do so, the name of Grahamstown would be changed – to what was less clear. He was vigorously supported by a descendant of European settlers who, having exterminated most of the local American population with smallpox and guns, proceeded to import slaves from West Africa to do the hard work for them. On a budget of R100 000, she failed to make a case for change, let alone suggest a universally accepted name.
A new mayor, who seems happy to have his village named for the original Dutch settler in the Cape, a new budget of R250 000, and we are off again. Will it be “Makhanda” or “Makana City” – will it pass muster with the Cacadu section of the Provincial Naming Committee (which does not appear to have met for at least eighteen months)? Will the “Fingo” members of Council demand that the reticulated sanitation, promised for the end of 2007, be completed before more money is spent on promoting a change of name?
There is a curious irony here – it does not matter! Just as isiXhosa speakers across the land will continue to refer to our city as “Rhini”, and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Municipality as “Ibayhi”, so many locals, businessmen and institutional managers will continue to refer to our city as “Grahamstown” and not change the names of their properties. The Post Office, which promises to “deliver, whatever it takes”, will note the numbers 6139 and 6140 regardless of the city named on the envelopes. And the amaBhaca workers will continue to deliver their services as generation after generation of Mayors promise “to eliminate the bucket system”.
Prof Michael Whisson was a member of Mayor Pumelelo Kate's naming committee and the District Place Names committee which has either not met (or else forgotten that he is a member!) for 18 months at least.