Minister of Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa Gazettes the renaming of Grahamstown to Makhanda

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21 Jul 2018

The Minister of Arts and Culture, Hon Nathi Mthethwa wishes to announce that on Friday 29 June 2018 the Government Gazette has published the changing of the name of the town of “Grahamstown” to “Makhanda”.

Name changes is an internationally accepted practice fully supported and endorsed by the United Nations that (i) countries have the sovereign right to standardize names and (ii) can decide what name to give for each feature in that country should be or how it should be spelt. In this instance, there has a been a call for almost 20 years to change the name of the town, and those who have pushed for this name to be changed have been informed chiefly by what Colonel Graham epitomises, and the painfully bitter memories his name evokes.

In South Africa, it has been standard practice to change names which are not in line with the letter and spirit of the Constitution.

“It is the Truth & Reconciliation Commission that recommended that the renaming of geographic features be a form of “symbolic reparation” to address an unjust past. These reparations include changing the names of geophrical places. Surely, we cannot prove ourselves committed (as government) to fully achieve these reparations if we retain names such as ‘Grahamstown’- named after Colonel John Graham- whose name is captured in history as being the most brutal and most vicious of the British commanders on that frontier, whose campaigns were executed with- in his own words- “A proper degree of terror”? "At the time, British authorities praised Graham for “breaking the back of the natives”. The battles he waged were not only against soldiers, everyone- including women, children and the elderly would not be spared. Even post-battle, he and his soldiers would employ the “scorched earth policy” against those he had already brought violence and misery against, by burning their fields and killing their cattle; starving them into submission, before killing them.” This is the man that “Grahamstown” has been named after.

- Minister Nathi Mthethwa

“Makhanda” who was also known as Nxele was a Xhosa warrior, philosopher, prophet and military man who fought against colonialism- in battles that include one where he led an attack against the British garrison at Grahamstown in 1819.


Process in terms of the legislation:

In terms of the Act:

1.1. the Minister signs off on the South African Geographical Names Council (SAGNC) name change recommendation

1.2. after the SAGNC has met to consider it,

1.3.  after receiving applications from the Provincial Geographical Names Committees (PGNCs), which coordinate names from different municipalities.

  • The gazetting of renaming of “Grahamstown” to “Makhanda” has been preceded by 20 years of discussions, from members of the public, historians, academics and politicians.
  • As early as 2012 the Makana Local Municipality had public engagements on possible change of name Grahamstown when they were dealing with changing the names of the streets of the town.
  • It is only recently in 2015 that these discussions culminated in an official application form that went through the process to the SAGNC and the Minister of Arts and Culture.
  • The matter was then escalated to the Eastern Cape Provincial Geographical Names Committee who then with Makana Local Municipality undertook public participation with stakeholders.
  • The public participation with stakeholders at these two spheres of government resulted in the proposed names of Rhini, Makana, Makhanda and Nxele (not in order of preference or importance). 

Minister Mthethwa would like to urge all South Africans to all be crystal clear about the meaning of name-change in the national effort to transform the country.

For further information and interview requests, please contact: Asanda Magaqa, Spokesperson for the Minister of Arts and Culture – 072 372 6807; Email:

Issued by the Department of Arts and Culture