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Behind the scenes of the Leila Khaled Drive saga

  • sandton drive
Two Muslim men were on opposite sides of a controversial motion tabled in the Johannesburg City Council last week to rename Sandton Drive to Leila Khaled Drive – named after the first woman to hijack a plane.
by NICOLA MILTZ | Dec 06, 2018

African Muslim Councillor Thapelo Amad, of the minor Al Jama’ah political party, which holds one seat out of 270 in the Johannesburg City Council, brought the troublesome motion before the council last week.

It was vehemently opposed by Democratic Alliance (DA) Councillor Sergio dos Santos, also a Muslim, who irrespective of his own personal views on the Middle East, said it would be wasteful expenditure.

Amad had initially asked for the street to be renamed City of Ramallah Drive because he said Johannesburg had “signed a twinning agreement and a memorandum of co-operation” with the city of Ramallah, and he thought this would be a way of demonstrating solidarity with Palestinians.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) proposed the name of Leila Khaled instead, when it became apparent during debate that the name City of Ramallah would not be accepted due to certain policy rules discouraging the use of place names when re-naming.

An amendment to the motion was then tabled and accepted, calling for the renaming of the road after Leila Khaled, a member of the People’s Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Khaled, 74, is known as the poster girl of Palestinian militancy for her role in hijacking TWA flight 840 from Rome to Tel Aviv in 1969 and her part in the Dawson’s Field hijackings the following yea.

The DA did not support the motion, but was outnumbered when the EFF and the African National Congress (ANC) voted in favour.

In his motion, Amad implied that United States President Donald Trump was interfering in the domestic affairs of the country following recent comments on land expropriation. He motivated for the name change, saying it was “due to the fact that US embassy consulate resides in the same street”, according to his motion before the council.

“Donald Trump/USA instigated the genocide against humanity in Palestine and even threatening (sic) to deploy a permanent ambassador to hold South Africans hostage on how they should handle their domestic affairs (land expropriation),” he said.

Amad told the SA Jewish Report this week that he brought the motion to have the street name changed in a bid to demonstrate solidarity with the Palestinians during the 16 Days of Activism. He said it was a coincidence that it took place on the same day that the United Nations held the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people on 29 November.

“South Africa is at the decolonising stage where we are taking control of our own narrative,” he said. “President Trump has incited genocide in Palestine, the US wants to control the world.”

Amad further claimed that those who opposed the motion in the council, namely the DA and its alliance partners, were “all agents of apartheid pre-1994”. He claimed their opposition to the name change had “exposed them”.

When asked how the renaming could benefit the poor in the city, he insisted, “The City of Joburg has its own budget for street re-naming. This money was not meant for food and stuff, it is meant for the purpose of street renaming.”

Said Dos Santos, “The City of Johannesburg must first use its limited resources towards the upliftment of our community, reducing the R170 billion infrastructure backlog, and bringing dignity to our people by delivering basic services, before spending on changing a street name. As a Muslim, I want to see peace in the Middle East and I believe that it is the duty of all protagonists to continue playing an active role in educating society on the Middle-East crisis.

“I also completely understand that some may see this proposed name change as a show of solidarity. At the same time, I can’t support a city spending limited resources for such when some of our people still don’t have water or electricity.”

Dos Santos said he had encountered some “raised bows” from members of his community, but felt strongly about this issue.

While the city council adopted the motion, Martin Williams, Ward 90 Councillor for the affected area, told the SA Jewish Report it was “not a done deal”.

“I think this is a publicity stunt. It can’t possibly impact the lives of anyone in the city, no one’s life is going to be improved by this name change… it comes from a tiny party scoring political points.”

He said city policy required extensive public participation. In addition, the motion passed by the council might be flawed because of other departures from policy and procedure.

Williams said policy required that the process of naming and or renaming must be undertaken in a consultative manner, and this must be clearly demonstrated before a final decision could be taken. Ward councillors had to be consulted, public notices needed to go up in strategic positions, and at least one public meeting must be held.

“As an affected ward councillor, I shall help ensure compliance, including at least one public meeting. The people of Ward 90 shall have their say,” he said.

Williams also pointed out that the policy states that place re-naming should be done “sparingly” to eliminate unnecessary expenses, including costs for businesses and other stakeholders.

According to the policy document, “The naming of features after exceptional people is recognised as being a way of honouring outstanding individuals for their contribution to the development of the city and the country, and should be done sparingly and with careful consideration.

“Only in rare cases should people’s names be used, and any submission petitions to name after a person must be accompanied by a detailed motivation and profile indicating why the specific person is worthy of the honour. Every effort to gain consent from family members of the person who is being commemorated should be demonstrated. Supporting evidence that shows attempts by the council to consult with family members should accompany the proposal”.

In this case, Williams said, there was no evidence that the family had been consulted. “Nor was a detailed motivation and profile submitted in time for consideration by the council indicating why the person was worthy of the honour.”

Executive Mayor of the City of Johannesburg, Herman Mashaba, and Dos Santos issued a statement regarding the proposed name change, in which they asked, “How do we justify spending limited resources by changing street names which are not offensive, as opposed to seeing to the dignity of our residents?”

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