Government moves forward with unveiling newly named Free State town Winnie Mandela

Image: Teboho Letshaba

Information signs symbolising the Winnie Mandela town have already been mounted

Government is forging ahead with the official unveiling of the newly-named Free State town Winnie Mandela, which was previously known as Brandfort.

Information signs symbolising the Winnie Mandela town have already been mounted, and those of Brandfort have been replaced. That’s despite threats of court action by the Democratic Alliance (DA) and scores of other residents objecting to the name change.

The DA has accused government of not conducting public consultations ahead of the renaming. The official unveiling ceremony will be held on Sunday to coincide with the birthdate of the late struggle icon, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was banished to the sprawling Free State town in May 1977. She lived at the iconic House 802 in the Majwemasweu Township with her youngest daughter, Zindzi.

The house has been restored and turned into a museum. The town was formerly named after the president of the erstwhile Orange Free State, Johannes Brand.

Brandfort was proclaimed a town in 1874.

Government says the renaming process has taken almost three years to conclude. The Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture and Recreation, Nathi Mthethwa, gazetted the renaming of Brandfort to Winnie Mandela on 6th of August.

DA files petition against renaming of Brandfort to Winnie Mandela

The DA in the Free State has filed a petition with more than 700 signatures against the renaming of Brandfort.

Those who are opposed to the name change, say government should be focusing its financial resources on improving service delivery.  

Issues raised include a lack of basic water supply, sewer spills, and poor infrastructure.  

Local businessman and resident Frans Posthumus explains, 

“Name change is actually the last thing in Brandfort that needs to be rectified. Sewer problems, electricity problems, account problems, roads, lack of people with necessary qualifications, it’s our big problem here in Brandfort. I think if they can rather build a Winnie Mandela Clinic – that’s something for the community. That will be more worthwhile than changing the name.”

The residents feel that public consultation was inadequate and have echoed the sentiments of Posthumus.

“I don’t like it very much because Brandfort has a unique history. So, I really don’t think it’s a great idea. For me, it’ll always stay Brandfort,” says one resident.  

“I’m not feeling very well because they didn’t consult us. They change our town into Winnie Mandela’s names,” says another resident.  

“The infrastructure of this place is gone. There’s no infrastructure. If they can just use the money to fix the roads … even the City Hall is gone. There are no windows in the City Hall.”

A close friend of Winnie Madikizela Mandela’s in the 1970s, and former primary school teacher in Brandfort, Nora Moahloli, explains what makes them unhappy.

“We are not happy, ntate! The reason is when starting this, they promised that – even when writing the letters asking for permission to use the name – they said it’s going to be from Masilonyana to Winnie Madikizela Mandela, but all of a sudden now, they are saying Brandfort to Winnie Madikizela Mandela. It’s not nice. It doesn’t sound well.”

Free State DA against renaming of Brandfort to Winnie Mandela:

The FF Plus’ Member of the Free State Provincial Legislature, Armand Cloete, says the minister is driving this issue to change the name to hide the fact that the African National Congress (ANC) has not delivered on its promises.  

He says it’s nothing but political populism.

“The whole process rigs of political populism in the sense that, according to the legislation, there should be public participation and then the authority should listen to the community. We know that this will cost a lot of money to taxpayers and it affected different spheres of government and that municipality does have that money.”

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), however, supports the renaming. But as for basic service delivery, the party’s chairperson in the Free  State, Mandisa Makesini, does not mince her words.

“We hope it is not only the electioneering machinery to convince the people of Brandfort to vote for them. The people of Brandfort are still suffering. They don’t have toilets, water, houses. They are still unemployed. They will have to make sure that they change the lives of the people of Brandfort completely. The people of Brandfort deserve better because that town is named after Mama Winnie.”   

Meanwhile, the ANC in the Free State says it stands by the community’s wish to see the name changed to Winnie Mandela.  

Spokesperson for ANC’s Interim Provincial Committee (IPC) Oupa Khoabane, says, “As the ANC, we agree with the people of Brandfort who want the name to be changed to Winnie Mandela. We believe that those who are against that are those people who don’t want to see any change and who don’t want to identify themselves with the changing history. So, we really support (the move) because it’s an issue that was demanded by the people of that place, that Brandfort be changed to Winnie Mandela.”  

The Department of Arts and Culture says all objections have been referred to the South African Geographical Names Council.  

Mixed reactions to approval of name change of the town of Brandfort to Winnie Mandela:

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