No matter what new name they give to Port Elizabeth, it seems that old timers will always point to PE or ‘Die Baai’ (The Bay) if they intend going there.

The news that Port Elizabeth, that historical port city on the South-east coast of South Africa which was originally named after a British Monarch (not the present Queen Elizabeth) would in future carry the strange name of ‘Gqeberha’ has rocked the country. It will certainly cause sadness with Queen Elizabeth – who needs a bit of good news after her strive with grandson Harry!

Name changes in South Africa is nothing new – but it seems that ‘Gqeberha’ is carrying with it extra controversy. It also frankly comes at the wrong time – with Covid and all having cut of tourists from South African cities. Frankly, they are battling to survive – let alone deal with name changes which – at this time – cause more confusion than we can afford. It will be a further blow for the local economy. But then those who think these things out, probably do not think of the economy. They all have nice jobs and such minor things of dealing with the desperate state of the country are far from their minds.

Imagine the conversations that are now taking place!

Imagine if you are sitting somewhere in the cold of Europe or the UK, or for that matter North America or China, and you are planning a trip to South Africa – once the Covid-19 menace is over. You would be dreaming of sunny beaches – and long evenings in restaurants. Your US Dollars or British Pounds can buy you the best food and best bottle of South African wine.

You would be paging through some travel brochures or consult some websites and will be attracted by the those beautiful beaches of the Eastern Cape, especially those near Port Elizabeth – with Algoa Bay stretching away into the Southern Oceans. You will also think of driving into the country side – of visiting the Addo Game Park which is unique in South Africa because it stretches from inland mountains to the sea. It is one of the few game parks where you can enjoy this unique combination of land and marine life.

You would see the name of the Radisson Blu Hotel in Port Elizabeth – with its views across the ocean. Yoiu would think – ‘this is where I would like to go and soak up the sun.’ You would dial the number and when someone answers, you will ask: “is this the Radisson Blu in Port Elizabeth?” “No,” the answer would come, “this is the Radisson Blu in Gqeberha.” “Kweberaaah what,” you would answer and think – “I never heard of that place.” Then, you being a polite person, would say: “Apologies, I must have the wrong number?”

Never mind that most hotels in the area are running on discounts of more than 40%. Covid-19 has destroyed the international tourism to South Africa and if you are travelling with Pounds or Euro’s, you can get deals like never before.

Also never mind that as history developed Port Elizabeth became one of South Africa’s best know port cities. It was Algoa Bay long before it became Port Elizabeth and in later years this was the calling port of ocean liners. Some of the best known ones were the famous mail ships which called on a weekly basis. They became the foundation of the region’s economy – bringing tourists and travelers from the UK to sunny South Africa and taking some of our best produce to Europe. Spare a thought for the masters of today’s vessels when they try to call the port captain in Port Elizabeth – now called that funny name. Imagine the conversation – “Hello Port Captain in Port Elizabeth”, the master would say. “This is Port Captain at Kweberaaah – who are you,” the answer would be. “Oh dear,” the Master will react. “We must be way of course – what is this place then?”

Confusion and more confusion – because Port Elizabeth is no more! Tant Lizzie has departed . This historic city overnight became Gqeberha.

What is Gqeberha?

Those who made this decision will point to the fact that the decision was already announced in 2019.Gqeberha’, according to Wikepedia, is a Xhosa word used to refer to the Baakens River that flows through the city.

Other sources say the name was submitted by a man called Boy Lamani of KwaMagxaki, a township somewhere in the area. He said that Gqeberha was the isiXhosa name for Walmer Township, one of the first and oldest Port Elizabeth townships.

Others say it is a Khoi word and it is insensitive, even presumptuous, for a group of modern day government officials with nothing better to do to use the Xhosa spelling of Gqeberha for the new city. At least they could have consulted the descendants of our Khoi ancestors who lived in the area long before anybody else, the Xhosa nations and even the descendants of the British people, arrived there.

Through the years Port Elizabeth was also nicknamed “The Friendly City” or “The Windy City”. It is situated on the western portion of Algoa Bay, adjacent to the Indian Ocean. The city lies 770 km east of Cape Town, and is east of the Garden Route.. It is the second oldest city in South Africa and was founded in 1820 by the government of the Cape Colony as “Port Elizabeth” when 4,000 British colonists settled Algoa Bay. Man, that is some 200 years ago!

Ever since we went to Port Elizabeth, PE or Die Baai – and I guess we will always be going there.

That’s for the history – but changing a name will not change the minds of people. Just as people are still travelling to Nelspruit, Pietersburg and Pretoria despite their new names, we suspect that all South Africans will still travel to Port Elizabeth, PE and ‘Die Baai’ – for many years to come.

Think of it – they have to rebrand the city, all the tourist maps and publicity material will have to change. This at a time when the country is virtually bankrupt due to corruption and the ravages of Covid-19.

Fredo has one message for those officials who are playing silly games while earning fat salaries – it seems that as they twiddle their thumbs every day, they have to conspire in some way to cause more mayhem than we can afford.

Spend the time on supporting the travel industry – and build the economy. Get of your backsides and do something useful for a change.