Background to the Re-naming Debate

The City of Grahamstown (also long-since referred to synonymously in Xhosa as iRhini) in the Eastern Cape, South Africa forms part of the Municipality of Makana, so-named since 2000.

An account of the origin of the respective names Grahamstown and Makana was until recently explained on the website of the Makana Municipality as follows:

“The clue to [Grahamstown’s] official origins lies in its name…. Colonel John Graham established Grahamstown in 1812…. It was the first town to be established by the British in South Africa, its location being primarily chosen for the perceived abundance of water. It remained a military garrison and was the site of the famous 1819 attack by Nxele (Makana) in his attempt to halt the European incursion into Xhosa territory…..As a result of this battle it was decided to settle 4 000 Britons in the area to consolidate British occupation of the territory. Their influence on subsequent South African history was far reaching and way out of proportion to their limited numbers….After the arrival of the settlers, Grahamstown grew rapidly to become the second largest town in South Africa after Cape Town. As military activity moved further east and north, education took over as its main infrastructure…. Grahamstown remains an important educational and cultural centre today.”

What this account does not mention is that Colonel John Graham played a leading role in the “clearances” of the Xhosa from the area then generally known as the Zuurveld, forcing them back across the Fish River, employing brutal methods.

President Thabo Mbeki has on several occasions recently questioned in Parliament and elsewhere how the name Grahamstown can remain when it is named after someone who was a “butcher” of the Xhosa people?

Following his lead, the Mayor of the Makana Municipality, Mr Phumelelo Kate, announced on 14.9.07 that the name Grahamstown “must go” as it is was “imposed by colonialists in honour of John Graham.”

The reason and motivation for the “Keep Grahamstown Grahamstown” (KGG) Campaign is explained in a letter written to the Mayor of the Makana Municipality, Mr Phumelelo Kate, on the next page of this website.

The letter emphasises:-

  • that the campaign was launched after a sample survey asking the simple question “Should we keep the name Grahamstown? Yes/No” showed that the majority of Grahamstonians, black and white, were in favour of keeping the name;
  • that its motivation is not historical but rather on the reputation which Grahamstown has established under that name as a cultural and educational centre, the home of the National Arts Festival, Rhodes University, exceptional schools and other institutions;
  • the importance for the purposes of Reconciliation of retaining the names Grahamstown and Makana in combination as together they symbolise the coming together of opposing histories, and finally
  • that it intends to make a positive contribution to the process as launched by the Mayor.

“Makana + Grahamstown = Reconciliation/Rekonsiliasie/Luxolelwaniso”