South African city of Port Elizabeth becomes Gqeberha

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The city's pier is a popular tourist attraction

Many South Africans are learning how to pronounce Gqeberha, the new name for the city of Port Elizabeth.

It is the Xhosa name for the Baakens River, which flows through the city.

Xhosa is one of South Africa's 11 official languages and one of the few in the world that has a "click" sound, which can be difficult for non-Xhosa speakers to master.

One tweeter reflected the views of many: "My Xhosa people. Teach us. How do you pronounce Gqeberha?"

Some have been giving each other a little help. One tweeter broke it down phonetically, saying the "Gqe" was a tongue click, "bear" for "be" and adding a guttural "g" before the ha: "Click bear gha."

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Gqeberha is one of a number of name changes to cities, towns and airports in the Eastern Cape province announced by Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa.

Media caption,
The BBC's Pumza Fihlani on how to master the Xhosa tongue-twisters

The city's airport is now named after David Stuurman, a leader of the Khoi people who fought colonialists in the 19th Century.

He was among the first political prisoners to be jailed on Robben Island off Cape Town - from which he once escaped. He died in Australia where he had been transported to serve a life sentence.

Why choose a 'tongue-twister'?

By BBC's Pumza Fihlani, Johannesburg

The name changes have got people talking - and while some have taken to social media to either ask for help on how to pronounce them, others are simply confused if not even a little irritated about why the names were changed in the first place.

Xhosa's tongue-twister sounds do not come naturally to non-Xhosa speakers - even many black South Africans. So it's likely that many will still use the names they know.

So why the change? Officials believe changing some of the country's many colonial- or apartheid-legacy names will help bring dignity to the black communities living there.

It is part of a call made by the arts and culture minister last year for an audit of offensive names. It is seen as a way of writing black people into history.

Not everyone is happy about the new names and the matter has been dragging on for several years, with residents submitting objections.

A petition to keep the name Port Elizabeth, often shortened to PE, started more than a year ago has more than 32,000 signatures - garnering several thousand on Wednesday following the official change.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Gqeberha was commonly known as PE and is the financial hub of the Eastern Cape

Port Elizabeth was founded in 1820 by British settlers and named in memory of the late wife of the Cape Colony's then governor.

Some see the name changes as a waste of money at a time when the economy is struggling.

Michael Cardo, an opposition Democratic Alliance MP, said that the Eastern Cape had the highest unemployment rate in country, according to official statistics.

"But, hey, its towns and airports have a new bunch of names. #Progress," he tweeted.

Others have been posting memes about their pronunciation problems:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

Another tweeter pointed out that South Africans had learnt to get their tongues around Afrikaans names like famous rugby player Joost Heystek van der Westhuizen.

"You will learn to say 'Gqeberha'," Rashid Kay said.

White-minority rule ended in South Africa in 1994 with the election of Nelson Mandela, but it has been slower than most African countries in changing place names that reflect earlier colonial rulers.

Some cities have, like the capital, Pretoria, kept their name but the local government areas under which they come have been renamed.

For example, Pretoria is in Tswane Metropolitan Municipality and the city of Durban it in eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality.

South Africa's name changes


  • Was Port Elizabeth - now Gqeberha
  • Was Uitenhage - now Kariega


  • Was Berlin - now Ntabozuko
  • Was MaClear Town - now Nqanqarhu
  • Was King William's Town - now Qonce


  • Was Port Elizabeth International Airport - now Chief Dawid Stuurman International Airport
  • Was East London Airport - now King Phalo Airport

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