everything you must know about South Africa's new name, Azania

In the midst of all the political and social upheaval impacting negatively on the nation’s economy, comes a proposal from the Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa for South Africa’s name to be exchanged with a new name – Azania.

This new proposal by Minister Mthethwa has generated lots controversies with many South Africans believing that the name change would do or nothing in effecting positive change in the country’s present situation.

Giving reasons why he believes the new name Azania will be good for the country, Minister Mthethwa said that “South Africa” was merely a geographical reference and should be done away with just like other colonial-era names in Africa.

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Well, the Name Azania isn’t  new to South Africans. The name became prevalent when in 2014 the ANC, during a general election that would see the return of Jacob Zuma, a new organization called the Azanian Peoples Organization (AZAPO) suggested Azania should be the new name for South Africa with black consciousness as a central philosophy.

The organization which strongly opposed the return of presidentJacob Zuma and the political leadership of the African National Congress (ANC), called for a“totally” transform South Africa – starting with its name.

“We want to give it a new name, which is a freedom name called Azania. Azania is a name that AZAPO associates with liberation. Azania (means) ‘the land of black people at the tip of the continent,’” AZAPO deputy president Strike Thokoane explained at the time.

The idea to rename South Africa has been put forward several times before, but the ruling party the African National Congress has always rejected the proposal and retained the use of the name South Africa.

What then is Azania?

 Azania : Facts And History

  • The name Azania is a medieval Arabic name which means the Land of  Zanj (Blacks). The name was, in fact, used probably before the Roman period to refer to a portion of the South-east African coast extending from Kenya
  • The Zanj (the people of the ancient Azania ) were actually East Africans, several thousands of whom were brought by Basran (Iraqi) landowners to drain the salt marshes east of Basra, approximately between 868 and 883 AD.
  • They were subjected to heavy slavery by the Basran Arabs.
  • The Zanj of Azania were crushed around 869 AD when they joined a Persian named Ali ibn Muhammad to fight against the caliphal Basran armies who later crushed them, They were finally crushed by August 883 by Egyptians who returned to Baghdad with Ali’s head.
  •  The name was proposed by scholars to refer to an ancient continent that may have existed within the Neoproterozoic Mozambique Ocean
  •  AZAPO- the Zanian Peoples Organization – formed during the apartheid era- used the name to denote the Pan-Africanist Republic of Azania.

Rationale Behind The Proposed New Name- Azania

Though Mthethwa’s proposal has been massively opposed by members of the ruling party, the ANC, and about 62% South Africans, the proposal gained the support of some Black nationalists, such as Thamba Godi of the African People’s Convention (APC) who suggested that South Africa should follow its sister countries, such as Namibia and Zimbabwe, which promptly changed their colonial names (South West Africa and Rhodesia, respectively) after independence.

The likes the Black Consciousness persuasion, are greatly enthused about the idea.

Though not much were said in dept what the new name would mean for South Africa and what effect it would have on the country’s political and socio-economic growth of the country, it is assumed that the new name Azania will regenerate AZAPO’s plan for the country which includes:

  • To abolish the nation’s nine provinces: AZAPO wants the country’s nine provinces to be abolished because, according to the organization, splitting the country into many regions increases inefficiency and corruption where provincial ministers can hide away from the eye of national government.  
    On the other hand, the group call for one national government that would apportion the country’s wealth equally among all “Azanians”.
  • To tax big landowners so they give land up: Against the demand for lands to be returned to its original owners, Azapo also called for lands to be distributed fairly. The land should be “repossessed” in such a way that those who own big chunks of land must be taxed such that they don’t need to own that land; they must give it up. Hence, unlike the ANC, AZAPO would not give land to people “simply because they are black and landless. “This is why land reform is failing”.

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However the case may be, the real truth behind proposed Azania to replace the name South Africa seems to be that it was coined by colonial settlers; that it was the Anglo-Boer War veterans who coined the name.

But, as South Africans look forward to a further discussion on the matter at the parliamentary house, analysts believe the proposal will cost the country millions or even billions of tax payers rand to change the name. These monies, according to them should be spent on things that are needed.