05/06/2018 07:08 SAST | Updated 05/06/2018 07:08 SAST

Meeting Over Cape Town Airport Renaming Descends Into Chaos

A public participation meeting to discuss the renaming of the Cape Town International Airport had to be called off on Monday night.

Hannah Mckay / Reuters
Passengers wait for their flights at the Cape Town International Airport in Cape Town, South Africa, January 12, 2018.

Tempers flared over proposed name changes to the Cape Town International Airport on Monday night, as a public-participation hearing on the matter turned into chaos. The meeting had to be called off and security had to be called in as groups vying for different names, especially that of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, and a group wanting the airport to be named after the Khoisan people, came to blows.

Wednesday is the deadline for the public to submit their proposals for the planned name change, and the issue has been hotly contested since the EFF's leader, Julius Malema, called for it to be named after Madikizela-Mandela. Transport Minister Blade Nzimande wants it to be named after Nelson Mandela, and there have also been calls to name it after Robert Sobukwe.

The airports at Kimberley, East London and Port Elizabeth are also set to be renamed. But it is the renaming of the Cape Town airport that has seen the most heated debate.

According to the Cape Argus, Monday's meeting was chaotic from the get-go, with attendees ignoring the facilitator's pleas for calm before the first speaker had even taken the mic.

About 300 people were reportedly in attendance, and many arrived already fired up.

The EFF sang struggle songs, while another speaker reportedly shouted: "Khoisan heritage to take first preference, or there will be war."

The situation got worse as some speakers outright rejected Madikizela-Mandela's name. A speaker, Ehrahiem Davids, said "Winnie was never part of this country", according to Power FM news.

To which an EFF supporter reportedly replied: "We will not allow anyone to divide us. We are all here because of Winnie Nomzamo Madikizela-Mandela."

This reportedly had the crowd on their feet, but the situation only worsened when David Kamfer of the Independent Civic Organisation of SA reportedly said: "We are sick and tired of the Mandelas. We are here to tell people to stand up and say this land belongs to us! We want to take it and change it to Krotoa International Airport."

The situation quickly devolved into violence.

The debate continued to rage on social media. Some people felt that renaming the airport was a waste of money as there was nothing offensive about its current name, and others complained that the entire conversation had become racial and divisive.

Many others, however, were adamant that the name should change.