Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Lost in Africa

With liberation in South Africa, as is often the case when liberation happens, people decided to change some place names. That’s all very well, but it does mean that one can get terribly lost.

Some years ago, I was heading for the town that most people still call ‘Bloemfontein’ and nearly missed the turning, because I’d forgotten that it was now called ‘Manguang’. This incident motivated me to learn all the new place names and to remember that maybe the old ones are offensive.

About two years ago, I went to Sweden on a training course. There was another course running at the same time, and at one point the organizers decided that the delegates should meet. Of course, I made a beeline for the South Africans and we did the ‘Well I never! Fancy meeting you here!’ routines that countrymen do when they encounter each other abroad.

One of the ladies (a black one, as most South Africans are) told me that she came from a research institute that I knew was in Pretoria. No… not Pretoria… new name… so I said:

‘Oh! You’re from the town I grew up in, Tshwane!’ and she said

‘Yes, I’m from Pretoria’

So much for being politically aware and sensitive to people’s feelings! I must say that Microsoft has a bit of a problem there since spell check recognizes ‘Pretoria’, but not ‘Tshwane’.

I bet Bill Gates gets lost on the way to Manguang!


  1. Well I've heard Pretoria but not Tshwane. Around here the street names change on occasion. It is all very confusing. Your last line was so funny!

  2. I've heard the Japanese are planning to rename Iwo Jima because they don't want the current Japan to be associated with its history. We do that in the US. There was a street in Atlanta that had high rates of poverty and crime, so the politicians solved the problem by renaming it. I think you should make up your own name for things, then act hurt when the other people respond with ignorance. "What do you mean, you've never heard of Shamalamadingdongtown? I'm from there, you know!"

  3. I can't even handle it when a business downtown changes it's name. I don't know what I would do if towns around here started changing names.

  4. I love the way you write! You suck me right in and I leave here better for my visit! I especially like to hear about cultures other than my own.

  5. Pamo: I'm confused too!

    Grant: great idea! I'm going to try that! Love the name of your home town!

    Jay: I'm still dealing with it. I've forgotten some of them by now.

    Raena: Why do you think I 'follow' you Americans? :) Fascinating stuff.