Reading Geographical Names as Text: Refiguring the "Living Archive" in Postcolonial South Africa

Veronica Ehrenreich-Risner, PhD


Geographical renaming as a methodology to deconstruct power shifts in South Africa allows for inclusion of silenced and marginalized voices from the country's recent past. This article examines the symbolic power of the state, as well as of the processes of boundary-making under the lens of place renaming with a focus on the province of Gauteng. The article introduces the phrase "living archive" to unpack South Africa's changing perceptions of who is oppressor and who is oppressed in the ongoing transition to democratic governance. The article employs the renaming of sites as a metanarrative to reveal a nuanced picture of the political shifts in power. Through the selection of particular facts as usable past, the article argues, the government seeks to identify who is worthy of the role of hero or victim in post-apartheid South Africa.


March 1, 2020

Journal Article

The American Archivist