Gender and race representation in street renaming in Pretoria/Tshwane

Place and street names (toponyms) tell powerful stories about identity, politico-cultural history, socio-political dominance and changing power relations. Before 1994, many places in South Africa were named after people who were participants in, or allies of, white minority governments. Many, although not all, of these were white and male. Since the end of apartheid, many streets, public buildings, towns, municipalities and other places have been renamed in an effort to reflect the post-apartheid society. This map of the month uses a partial database of 31 instances of street renaming in Pretoria/Tshwane in order to describe this in more detail (see Table 1 below). Street renaming in Pretoria/Tshwane has achieved a more racially representative outcome among those streets that have been renamed. Prior to renaming, 24 streets were named after white people and 2 after black people (a further 5 were not named after a person). After renaming, 26 streets were named after black people and 4 after white people (1 was not named after a person). However, the renaming process has not increased gender representation to the same extent. Prior to the renaming process, 23 streets were named after men and 3 after women. After the renaming, 24 streets were named after men and 6 after women. This article reflects further on the street renaming process that has occurred and on its symbolic function.

Name-changing relative to Race and Gender in South Africa and Pretoria/Tshwane

Name changes were mandated by the promulgation of the South African Geographical Names Act 118 of 1998 as well as the establishment of the South African Geographical Names Council (SAGNC), provincial geographical names councils (PGNCs) and local geographical names councils (LGNCs) - all under the auspices of the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names (UNGEGN). Renaming has largely been driven by the national Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture as well as political heads at provincial and local government spheres. According to data taken from the national Department of Arts and Culture’s Report on Standardization submitted to the United Nations (UN), a total of 1,393 names had been approved by the SAGNC in South Africa by 2017 (Ehrenreich-Risner 2020). 48 of these names were in Gauteng, and include 27 street name changes introduced by the then-ANC-governed City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality in 2012 (Ehrenreich-Risner 2020; see Table 1).

Section 10.1.3 of the City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality’s Policy: Local Geographical Names, adopted in 2002, makes provision for “honour[ing] or commemorat[ing] noteworthy people associated with the city, provincial and National” contexts in renaming initiatives (City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality 2010:19). According to Councillor Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, who was the executive mayor of the Tshwane Metropolitan Council at the time (2010 to 2016), the street renaming initiative was aimed at facilitating a shared racial heritage and historical identity (Adebanwi 2017). Indeed, the new street names “represent all racial groups, genders and political spectrums, including Afrikaner religious leaders and academics that played an important role in the country's liberation struggle” (Department of Military Veterans 2023). An interview with a former City of Tshwane Member of the Mayoral Committee revealed that there was a preference for names that had a very close historical association with Pretoria/Tshwane as there was a concerted effort to honour “very local Tshwane-centric figures” (Respondent 1, interview, 2022). Since the 2016 municipal elections, the street renaming initiative in Pretoria/Tshwane has been less active because, according to City of Tshwane officials, the DA-led coalition government prioritised renaming townships with offensive names as well as naming nameless streets over renaming streets that already had names (Respondent 7, interview, 2022; Respondent 8, interview, 2022). Meanwhile, there have been recent initiatives to rename streets in other parts of Gauteng, with more commemorative name changes planned for the province’s thoroughfares and municipal streets by the Gauteng Provincial Government (Gauteng Roads and Transport 2018) and municipalities such as Emfuleni (Serero 2018), Ekurhuleni (Slater 2022), and Johannesburg (Koka 2022).

Some street name changes have been emotive as they have provoked various debates revolving around party politics, procedural legitimacy, race, cultural heritage, belonging and language. For instance, there have been arguments that the ruling ANC has been substituting history with new names that assert its rule (to be further discussed below). There has also been heated debate around whose version of history matters in ‘the new South Africa’ - indigenous African history or white settler history (Ndletyana 2012; Guyot & Seethal 2007).

In some parts of Gauteng, gender representation has at times been identified as an important goal in such processes. For instance, in 2015, the City of Johannesburg renamed several inner city streets in honour of the women who led the 1956 women’s march to the Union Buildings (City of Johannesburg 2018). In the same year, the City of Johannesburg “unveiled a new monument in Beyers Naude Square to ‘pay tribute to women as drivers of social and political change’” (City of Johannesburg 2018). Yet, gender representation has been less evident in place and street renaming within South Africa as a whole (Erlank 2017). Some scholarship has criticised the commemorative renaming initiative for, inter alia, being gender-biased - introducing to the urbanscape predominantly male hero names that continue to tell a patriarchal political narrative informed by hegemonic masculinity (see for instance Erlank 2017; Zuvalinyenga & Bigon 2021). Furthermore, scholars have argued that the naming of streets after women can itself support rather than disrupt patriarchal meanings. Zuvalinyenga and Bigon (2021:591) point out that some women who are commemorated are “presented in a role that accentuates their relationship with an important man, such as wives or daughters”.

Accordingly, this map of the month outlines the representation of gender and race of individuals honoured in the renamed streets of Pretoria/Tshwane, the political capital of South Africa, where debates around race and cultural heritage were rife (to be discussed in the next section) but gender issues were less visible in public debates. What is also interesting about the case of Pretoria/Tshwane is that the wholesale renaming of streets in the early 2010s was preceded by controversies around the proposed renaming of Pretoria (the city within the Tshwane metropolitan municipality) to Tshwane in the mid-2000s, which, according to a former Tshwane politician respondent, reified arguments by Afrikaner civil rights that both renaming exercises were “an onslaught on white Afrikaner heritage” (Respondent 1, interview, 2022).

Gender Representation in Pretoria/Tshwane’s Street Renaming Exercise

Figure 1 below maps out the gender of individuals honoured in Pretoria/Tshwane’s street renaming initiatives before their renaming. A tabulation of some of the renamed streets in the metropolitan area shows that out of some 31 old street names, 74% (23) had been named after men, about 10% (3) after women and 16% (5) were not named after people (see Table 1). Not all apartheid-era street names were male. For instance, Beatrix Street derived its name as a reference to Beatrix Dorey Meintjies, “the granddaughter of Stephanus Jacobus Meintjies, an advocate who owned Trevenna Estate from which Sunnyside (a suburb close to the Pretoria city centre) was developed” (de Villiers & Kesselring 2012:160). Similarly, Leah Mangope Road (a relatively shorter road adjoining the longer Lucas Mangope Highway) honoured the spouse of Lucas Mangope, the former leader of the Bophuthatswana homeland/bantustan.

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Figure 1. Gender of individuals commemorated in street names. For more detailed maps, click here.

An analysis of the new street names introduced by the democratic dispensation in Pretoria/Tshwane post-1994 shows that, of the 27 streets that the metropolitan municipality renamed in 2012, 6 were after women leaders. Consequently, of the 31 new names depicted in Table 1, approximately 78% (24) were after men, 19% (6) were named after women, and 3% (1) were not named after people. Therefore, the representation of women increased among those streets that were renamed, but not to the extent that they are in proportion with the population in general.

All of the six female leaders who were commemorated were prominent anti-apartheid activists. For instance, Charlotte Maxeke founded the Bantu Women’s League, which later became part of the ANC Women’s League (South African History Online 2023). Florence Barbara Ribeiro was a community worker, liberation movement supporter and Mamelodi resident who in 1986 was assassinated by the apartheid police (Department of Military Veterans 2023). Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph and Sophia Williams de Bruyn were three of the four women who led the historic Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW) 1956 women’s march to the Union Buildings in protest of ‘pass laws’ imposed by the apartheid government (Erlank 2017). Joseph was a founding member of the South African Congress of Democrats (COD), which was a white ally of the ANC (South African History Online 2023). Williams de Bruyn, the only surviving leader of the march, is an ANC veteran. Frances Baard, one of the organisers of the march, was part of the ANC Women’s League, as was Lilian Ngoyi, the national president of the organisation (Department of Military Veterans 2023). Also worth mentioning is that Strijdom Square in the Pretoria CBD was also ‘transformed’ into a ‘Living Women’s Memorial’ and renamed Lilian Ngoyi Square, in honour of departed struggle heroine Lilian Ngoyi, one of several anti-apartheid activists who were honoured with a street name change in the early 2010s (Swanepoel 2012).

While Pretoria/Tshwane’s street name changes ushered in more female representation, they also entailed an ‘erasure’ of the three female names that existed prior to the name changes - Beatrix, Koningin Wilhelmina, and Leah Mangope (Table 1). These name changes were contested locally and internationally. For instance, the renaming of Koningin Wilhelmina Avenue, where the Netherlands embassy is situated, to Florence Ribeiro, was condemned by De Partij Voor de Vrijheid (the Party for Freedom), a Dutch right-wing political party, on the grounds that the name Koningin Wilhelmina avenue was “an ode to the young queen who in 1900 dispatched a Dutch warship to fetch a beleaguered President Kruger” (SAPA 2012). The Dutch right-wing party considered all the 2012 street name changes as “a slap in the face of the Dutch royal family” (SAPA 2012). It also strongly objected to the renaming of Beatrix Street to Steve Biko Street, wrongfully arguing that the name Beatrix was a reference to Queen Beatrix Wilhelmina Armgard of the Netherlands (Rustic Wood Carpentry 2012). Moreover, de Villiers and Kesselring (2012) argue that the removal of Leah Mangope’s name from a thoroughfare on the outskirts of Pretoria (in Ga-Rankuwa) was heavily influenced by party politics.

Racial Representation in Tshwane’s Street Renaming Exercise

In academic scholarship, several arguments allude to the City of Tshwane’s 2012 street renaming project as having been a triumphalist attempt by the erstwhile ANC-led government to signify black domination and erase Afrikaner and/or white heritage in the process (Ehrenreich-Risner 2020; Adebanwi 2017; Swanepoel 2012; de Villiers & Kesselring 2012). For instance, Swanepoel (2012) describes the 2012 street name changes in Pretoria/Tshwane as having been politically motivated, biased towards the ANC, and strategically selected

… less for their offensive nature than for the reason that they form the major arterial roads into and out of the city as well as the core of the CBD. [...] By renaming such streets, the ruling ANC party can further legitimise its rule by valorising the period of anti-apartheid struggle [...], the scale ensuring that the impact of the changed names is concomitantly greater. (Swanepoel 2012:85)

Such arguments may have been amplified by some Afrikaner civil rights groups’ heated opposition to the metropolitan municipality’s approval to rename the 27 streets in 2012 as well as the 2005 proposal to rename Pretoria to Tshwane. Some opposition political parties, including the Vryheidsfront Plus (VF+) and the Democratic Alliance (DA), echoed some Afrikaner civil rights groups’ claims that the said renamings were part of the City’s plan to erase Afrikaner/white heritage from the cityscape. The Tshwane 2012 street renaming controversy attracted media attention and, prior to its final Constitutional Court resolution in 2016, had led to back-and-forth litigation hearings between Afriforum and the City (SABC News 2016; Adebanwi 2017). On the ground, renaming opponents vandalised some of the new street name signs (Pretoria News 2011; Swanepoel 2012; Moatshe 2016; SABC News 2016). For instance, in 2011, 6 Afrikaner youths from a Pretoria-based right-wing group known as Verkenners (scouters) were caught on City of Tshwane-installed CCTV cameras attempting to deface the Nelson Mandela Boulevard street signs with stickers that bore the name of Clive Derby-Lewis (Pretoria News 2011). Derby-Lewis was a co-founder of the Conservative Party who, in 1993, was convicted of conspiracy to assassinate Chris Hani and was serving a life sentence in 2011 (Pretoria News 2011).

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Figure 2. Race of individuals commemorated in street names. For more detailed maps, click here.

It is the case that the new street names are overwhelmingly black - of the 31 new street names, about 84% (26) are black (including Indian and Coloured), 13% (4) are white, and 3% (1) are not named after a person. However, some new names also commemorated white liberation struggle icons (Table 1). We also need to take into account the fact that the tabulated name changes are a small minority of the total number of streets in the metropolitan municipality. Furthermore, the City, at some point, made concessions with Afriforum, a particularly vocal opponent to the name change, to retain Paul Kruger and Pretorius streets (de Villiers & Kesselring 2012; Swanepoel 2012; Respondent 1, interview, 2022). Moreover, as noted above, some previous street names that had commemorated black figures - Lucas Mangope Highway and Leah Mangope Road (named in honour of the former Bophuthatswana leader and his wife) - were changed (Figure 2, Table 1).

Most of the new names are of struggle icons who were affiliated with liberation movements such as the Azanian People’s Organisation (AZAPO), the Pan African Congress (PAC), the Transvaal Indian Congress and the ANC. Respondent 1 argued that the new names “were focused on not only one dimension of the liberation movement” and there was “a very broad representation of the broader liberation movements in the country being expressed in the choice of names” (interview, 2022). Nevertheless, according to Swanepoel (2012), there was an overrepresentation of ANC struggle heroes in the street renaming initiative of 2012.

This mapping exercise illustrates just two dimensions of place symbolisation: the race and gender of those commemorated before and after renaming. However, as the article shows, this approach provides only a partial indicator of place and street renaming. The goal of renaming has indeed been to represent those with a broadly anti-apartheid history, rather than to increase race or gender representation per se. Nevertheless, representation might be understood as a goal in and of itself so that ordinary residents of Pretoria/Tshwane might see people like them commemorated on street names. In this respect, there remains much scope for increasing the representation of women and black figures on street names.

This Map of the Month precedes the release of a GCRO Occasional Paper titled ‘The Politics of Commemorative Renaming in Gauteng: Toponymic changes amidst political change in Gauteng’. The Occasional Paper explores, inter alia, the manner in which commemorative place and street name changes have unfolded in various areas within Gauteng since 1994, and the extent to which party-political changes in both Pretoria/Tshwane and Johannesburg have had any bearing on the renaming initiative. Data collection for the work included interviews with 4 current officials, 1 former politician and 3 former officials in both metropolitan municipalities. There may have been more street name changes in Pretoria/Tshwane than the ones outlined in this article. This Map of the Month is based on available information - the name changes that were made available by the City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality (on their website and through some street renaming Council Resolutions provided to us by the City officials). This data was used to extract spatial data pertaining to these streets from OpenStreetMaps. It was determined that the OpenStreetMaps dataset contained the most updated street names and locations across the study area.

We urge Pretoria/Tshwane and Gauteng residents who are aware of more renamed streets in the metro - other than the ones discussed above - to share them with us by sending emails to: This will be useful in helping us get a clearer, more coherent and nuanced picture of the manner in which geographical name changes have unfolded in Pretoria/Tshwane and, by extension, Gauteng. We also invite you to email us if you have a view on place and/or street renaming in general, or any of the particular proposed or actual instances of renaming that have taken place. We may use your views in our research reports although we will not attach your name to them.

Table 1: Street renaming in Pretoria/Tshwane



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Edits and Input: Dr. Richard Ballard, Graeme Götz.

Design: Jennifer Murray.

Suggested citation: Mkhize, T. and Naidoo, Y. (2023). Gender and race representation in street renaming in Pretoria/Tshwane. Map of the Month. Gauteng City-Region Observatory. June 2023.


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