Thursday, 14 January 2021

How did South Africa get its name and should it change it?

There were 4 colonies, each with real names, 2 of which the British conquered via the Boer/South African Wars. The British then created the Union of South Africa from those nations, combining what were then British colonies to do so (Cape Colony, Natal Colony, Orange River Colony, Transvaal). For a lot of past century, Namibia (German South-West Africa) was included within that union as well, after it was taken from the Germans. 

What we call South Africa was never one nation before the British conquest, but several nations, and before that, land which was mostly empty due to lack of water supply without well digging technology, but which where habitable was controlled by warring tribes. Perhaps in future it will be given a new name, or will split again into new nations. 

The word Azania mentioned by some in the false belief that it was a prior name for the country, is not a past name for South Africa, but one used popularly by black nationalist groups during apartheid. 

There historically was a region called Azania in East Africa, which historically had been inhabited by Mediterranean peoples, and likely came from an Arab geographical term for East Africa. Although that term could also have its origins in the Arabic word for a black person, it seems to predate the migration period in which that part of Africa was discovered by the Niger-Congo tribes, and thus the geographic term is more likely, as it was not yet inhabited by people to fit that description.

South Africa is located in a subcontinent called Sub Saharan Africa and within that in Southern Africa. Most English speaking people know where and what South Africa is. They often also have a good if imperfect understanding of it.

Should South Africa do what eSwatini did and change their name? Probably not. People know it by the current name. It no longer plays such a prominent role in global politics that a new name is likely to become globally recognised. Perhaps in the 1990s, but in the world of today, the costs likely outweigh the benefits.

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