Hallo, gentle reader. Work with me on this, please, because a little bit of imagination is required here.
Imagine, if you would, that, say, Westminster Council decides to do a little bit of road-name overhauling. Its councillors look at relatively innocuous thoroughfares such as Oxford Street — and decide that things need jazzing up a bit. The arterial road, they announce, is going to be renamed Gerry Adams Avenue, in honour of the Sinn Fein leader, suspected by some of terrorist-related activities — though nothing was ever proved.
Yes, just imagine the furore over a central London street being renamed in honour of an Irish republican leader. Now transfer that uproar to South Africa, where the Johannesburg City Council has actually, not in imagination, announced that it plans to rename a major arterial road in the city… Leila Khaled Drive.
The initiative, backed by the African National Congress, or ANC, is designed to honour the notorious Khaled, now 74 and living in Jordan, who in 1969 was one of the Palestinian hijackers of a TWA flight from Rome to Tel Aviv. She acted when she was a member of the hard-line Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Of course, the ANC didn’t just adopt this resolution on its own account. No, it was supported by the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters faction on the council, whose chair, Musa Novela, argued: “It is our duty to stand in solidarity with the people of Palestine against the oppressive state of Israel.”
So determined were the ANC and the EFF to extinguish the completely innocuous Sandton Drive from the Johannesburg maps that originally they intended to rename it “City of Ramallah Road”, which I think we can all agree is less than catchy.
In these day of baleful political stupidity, not, alas, confined to the UK and the US, but unfortunately becoming global, it was mildly entertaining to discover that renaming Sandton Drive — which runs through the city and eventually through the largely Jewish neighbourhood of Sandton — turned into a fight between two Muslim councillors.
The motion was tabled by Thapelo Amad, whose party, Al Jama’ah, holds one seat out of 270 on the council. And it was vehemently opposed by the Democratic Alliance’s Sergio dos Santos, also a Muslim, who said the move would be wasteful expenditure.
The council might have a point about renaming roads in order to rid post-apartheid South Africa of names associated with colonialism and oppression. But it remains a fact that one of the central artery roads of Johannesburg is still Jan Smuts Avenue, named after the Second Boer War general and former SA prime minister.
Why not start there?
If Johannesburg City Council has nothing better to do with its time than renaming inoffensive roads, despite all the dreadful yawning social problems the city faces, then it does not deserve to be taken seriously.
One bizarre side-effect of the proposal to turn Sandton Drive into Leila Khaled Drive is the address of the American consulate, which currently occupies a building at 1, Sandton Drive. I cannot, for the life of me, see any American administration, much less the current one in Washington, embracing the idea of its consulate at the address of a notorious terrorist.
All in all this is dumb, counter-productive politics, played for the benefit of an unseen international audience. South Africa could be the beneficiary of Israel’s policy of reaching out to the continent — but not with stupidities like this.