Grahamstown Name Change

Many of you will already be aware that the Arts & Culture Minister of South Africa, Nathi Mthethwa, has approved the change of Grahamstown’s name to Makhanda.

You may also be aware that the name change will be objected to (by law there is a 30 day objection period) by the “Keep Grahamstown Grahamstown” campaign (KGG) and, potentially, others. The KGG purports to represent the opinion of more than 6,000 objectors.

The basis for KGG’s objection is the flawed nature of the name change process. KGG also states that subject to the Ministers decision, a legal challenge will be launched.


For more detail read Sue Maclennan’s 29 June article in Grocott’s Mail and refer to Grahamstown Eye. The efforts of Jock McConnachie (KGG) are commended.

The Grahamtown Project is in agreement that the process has been flawed and given the objection process and potential for litigation we will NOT, at this time, be changing our name to The Makhanda Project.

However, to the debate I would like to add a few points.

The Grahamtown Project is in support of name changes that adhere to due process and conform to the Constitution and relevant legislation. In my view, and this is contained in the Constitution, the overriding principle should be reconciliation. Reconciliation of the diverse communities of South Africa who are the product of a deeply painful history.

I understand well the calls for changing the name of our city. However, notwithstanding the fact that Grahamtown was named in 1812 after a particularly brutal British Army Officer (Colonel John Graham), this does not dispense with the need for due process and adherence to law. Colonel Graham’s actions as reported by Sir John Cradock were “to instill a proper degree of terror among the amaXhosa”.

I am not tied to the name Grahamstown. The Grahamtown Project will change its name to “The Makhanda Project” or whatever name is finally and lawfully agreed.

In addition to flouting due process, it disturbs me that the name change appears to have been rushed by government and, perhaps by coincidence, signed off at the time of the commencement of the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. At the very least this was unthoughtful. Whatever, and given the flawed process, it is a shame and serves to further divide a community that is desperately in need of reconciliation.

A final thought. As stated, I am not tied to the name “Grahamstown” but I understand the value of a brand. Think of any brand name you like from your favourite coffee to political party and try and imagine that with a completely different name. Would you still support it? How will our efforts to attract tourism* Dollars / Rands / Euros / Pounds to our community be affected by a name change. And certainly a name change that is not supported by substantial investment (hundreds of millions of Rands) in change management, branding and marketing of the new name, whatever it may be.

A happy and peaceful Sunday to you all.

* In this context “tourism” includes those contemplating our city as a place to educate themselves or their children.

Edit: Thank you Izak Smuts for pointing out that the “degree of terror” quote was made by Cradock rather than Graham himself.



Before moving back to Grahamstown in Oct 2017, Graeme was a bank executive based in the big smoke and craziness of Joburg. He has 20 years’ experience in the Payments Industry. He is a Chartered Accountant, has a Masters in Management by Research (MMR) from Wits Business School, and attended an Advanced Management Programme (AMP) offered by INSEAD (The Business School for the World!) in France.  

Graeme is the founder of The Grahamstown Project. It’s simple. He says, “Grahamstown is a microcosm of South Africa. If we can’t get this place to function properly then the whole country is stuffed. Many of the troubles we experience as a country today have their roots here in Grahamstown. it is here where black and white people first engaged in conflict on the African continent. It is here where 9 wars of dispossession over 100 years took place and virtually destroyed the amaXhosa nation. But we are where we are. I don’t have a British passport and the boat-trip back to where my ancestors came from is exorbitantly expensive. Furthermore, this is my home. I am a son of Africa. We must work together to redress the injustices of the past and move as one into a brighter future.”

Graeme is an avid historian, writer, vlogger and public speaker. Like and follow the Facebook page. Join him on a tour. Contact him. He would love that.