The African Renaissance as a reversal of conquest expressed in naming: An Afrocentric engagement

DOI: 10.1080/02580136.2018.1532187
Author(s): Simphiwe SesantiInstitute for African Renaissance Studies, South Africa


The African Renaissance is historically an African revolutionary project aimed at reclaiming and reviving African heritage that was destroyed by European slavery and colonialism. One of the manifestations of the African Renaissance was to do away with European names imposed on African countries, and to replace them with African names. While this was a good move, it was a half-measure because it ignored the gender aspect of colonial naming which saw a European cultural legacy of naming women after their husbands’ surnames remaining intact. Socially, this colonial practice promoted gender inequality by elevating husbands’ family names while relegating wives’ family names to a lower place. Politically, the exercise reduced women into being their husbands’ shadows even when women use double-barrel surnames. This colonial legacy’s suffocating effect on women’s identities was laid bare towards the African National Congress’ (ANC) elective conference in 2017. The Zuma family name was used to frustrate Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s contestation for the ANC’s presidency when her opponents argued that being the ex-wife of Jacob Zuma, the then ANC’s and South Africa’s president, would deter her from acting independently. The central argument here is that for the African Renaissance project to be meaningful and relevant for women, it must reclaim African women’s cultural right to retain their own family names and not adopt their husbands’.

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