The public meeting descended into chaos after a dispute over whether Cape Town International Airport should be renamed after struggle stalwart Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.
Chaos escalated when groups contesting for different names, especially that of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, and a group wanting the airport to be named after the Khoisan people came to blows.
The renaming of airports is part of the Transformation of Heritage Landscape government programme and in line with the South African Geographical Names Council Act of 1998.
Four possible names of struggle stalwarts have already been put forward: Nelson Mandela, Albertina Sisulu, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Robert Sobukwe, but the Khoisan group proposed another name: Krotoa.
East London Airport, Port Elizabeth International Airport and Kimberley Airport are also up for renaming.
Acsa states that those who didn’t manage to be heard at the public consultation will still have a say. “Proposals made by email and through other channels will carry equal weight to those made at public meetings,” Acsa says in a statement.
It says the intention of the meeting was to give the public an opportunity to respectfully present their name choices and decisions on a new airport name would not be influenced by threats or based on who shouted the loudest.
“When the intention of the meeting was disregarded and when other attendees were threatened, it was imperative that Acsa protected the integrity of the consultation and the safety of those in attendance. The meeting was therefore declared closed until the disruptors had agreed to proceed in a more respectful manner.
“The meeting was then reconvened and continued until the allocated time of 8pm, with many casting votes for their favourite name, both verbally and by ballot.”
Political analyst Ralph Mathekga says name-changing is a very divisive issue, especially given that Western Cape is a divided province in terms of race.
“The renaming of places usually is supposed to reflect both the national and the local mood. We might just be in a situation where the local mood in Western Cape is not really conducive to changing names, especially given the fact that people have already pre-empted the name Madikizela-Mandela,” he says.
He says the division might just play out during the whole process, given what is happening in Cape Town.
Minister of Arts and Culture Nathi Mthetwa is responsible for the approval of geographical names after receiving recommendations from the South African Geographical Names Council. The Department of Transport and Acsa will implement the official names once those names have been approved and they will then be published in the Government Gazette.
Acsa insists that everyone has the right to be heard and it will continue to ensure that all views on the renaming of airports are taken into consideration.