Port Elizabeth, Now Gqeberha—A Name Change in Limbo

April 16, 2021

Port Elizabeth, the most populous city in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, is now Gqeberha as the result of a recent name change that not everyone is pleased about.

South Africa's Arts and Culture minister Nathi Mthethwa is working to enact name changes in the country as part of a government program to transform South Africa’s heritage landscape. As Mthethwa puts it, "the names of places we live in reflect the identity and cultural heritage of the people of South Africa.”

In February 2021, Mthethwa announced several name changes in the Eastern Cape, stating that the transformation of the naming landscape in South Africa is "a critical component of the heritage landscape as a whole."

However, one of the recent name changes—the one transforming Port Elizabeth into Gqeberha—is not meeting with mass approval.

Shark Rock Pier in Port Elizabeth, South Africa

Gqeberha's mayor, Nqaba Bhanga, said the name change received more than 66,000 complaints, and an official submission has been issued claiming the name change process lacked satisfactory public participation. The submission supports the idea of a name change for Port Elizabeth, but raises concerns over the Gqeberha name itself, questioning its cultural relevance compared to other names that have historically been associated with the area.

The city is the second oldest in South Africa, founded in 1820. It's the seat of the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality, the country's second-largest metropolitan district. With glorious weather most of the year, Gqeberha is a popular tourist destination.

It's possible that the opposition to the name "Gqeberha" is partly due to the fact that it's too hard to pronounce, with a difficult click sound in the beginning. A suggested alternative name is Nelson Mandela City, as it works better for tourism purposes and reflects the area's historic connection to the former president.

Seterra will keep an eye on the situation. If the city formerly known as Port Elizabeth gets re-renamed, we'll change all impacted maps immediately.