'Don't take liberties' - Mbhazima Shilowa on reclaiming and imposing names

What's in a name?

Names (of people and places) are significant and are loaded with meaning, history and identity.

In South Africa in particular, names are a contentious issue, considering the country's colonial past.

The mispronunciation or erasure of names has been a controversial talking point in some South African spaces, as illustrated by recent hashtags including #TheYearWeMispronounceBack and #OurNamesMatter.

Anti-apartheid veteran "Terror" Lekota opted to use his African name, Mosiuoa, and retired politician Sam Shilowa similarly became Mbhazima Shilowa.

Shilowa explains why he took the decision to refer to himself as Mbhazima instead of Sam.

Born Mbhazima Samuel Shilowa, the former premier says his name was not a "slave name", however, people made no effort to pronounce his indigenous name.

Also read: Ex-Gauteng premier Mbhazima Shilowa on retirement and his next chapter

He says he prefers to reclaim his name as Mbhazima in order to reinforce a single identity.

It's one thing for people to call me Sam, I don't take any offence. But I, myself, should not participate in that process.

Mbhazima Shilowa, former Gauteng premier

It's also important that one doesn't take liberties.

Mbhazima Shilowa, former Gauteng premier

I take offence when I meet someone and call myself "Mbhazima Shilowa" and they say "Oh, Sam".

Mbhazima Shilowa, former Gauteng premier

He has warned people not to impose names on others, regardless of whether or not they understand the reason for someone to change their preferred name.

Take a listen to his explanation and other callers:


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