Street name-changes, abjection and private toponymy in Potchefstroom, South Africa

30 October 2013

In 2008, many residents of what was then Van Riebeeck Street in the small city of Potchefstroom in South Africa defied the city council's renaming it Peter Mokaba Avenue by erecting replica Van Riebeeck Street signs on their private property. Our interviews with these residents revealed a theme of moral, discursive and spatial straying and lostness. To explain this lostness we first show that Van Riebeeck and Mokaba are the master signifier and abject other of modern South Africa's symbolic order. Second, we demonstrate how this symbolic order is inexorably linked to the racialised relations of production embodied in planned urban spaces such as Potchefstroom. Preserving the spatio-symbolic coincidence forged in the 1952 Van Riebeeck festival that tied Van Riebeeck, the bringer of modernity, to the Foreshore Plan, its first spatial manifestation, is what motivates this privatisation of toponymy. To move Mokaba from abject other to signifier of a new mythology that fails to coincide with the unaltered spatial embodiment of racialised relations of production is to stray too close to the uncomfortable message of Peter Mokaba - namely that the revolution has yet to happen.