Shifting economic power and a shifting onomastic landscape in post-1994 South Africa

  • Bertie Neethling


Before the negotiated political settlement in the early 1990s that eventually culminated in the first fully democratic elections held in South Africa in 1994, the economic power in South Africa (and by implication also the ‘naming’ power) was firmly in the hands of the white (English and Afrikaans speaking) minority. The economy was dominated by longstanding companies that functioned largely in English, the language often referred to as the ‘language of the economy’. A predictable spin-off of the new dispensation was the coming into being of new indigenous African names in the economy, reflecting the new power relations particularly where ownership was in black hands or where existing concerns joined hands with black empowerment groups. Existing companies, obviously not keen on relinquishing company names that had been in existence for many decades, often took Black Economic Empowerment on board by creating a new company or brand, often reflecting an indigenous African name, within existing structures. This contribution reflects on the power of indigenous African names in the economy in post-1994 South Africa and highlights examples from the highest echelons, i.e. companies listed on the Stock Exchange, through the full spectrum to the more humble economic enterprises operating only in intimate and ‘own’ circles. Following Pierre Bourdieu (1984, 1986), it is argued that such names in the economy, regardless of the particular context in which they operate, should be considered as assets and capital being strong indicators of success, power, competitiveness, participation and identity, and also in some cases (notably where ownership is not [fully] in black hands) as acknowledgement of the powerful potential contained in the numbers of black consumers.

S.Afr.J.Afr.Lang., 2010, 1

Author Biography

Bertie Neethling
Xhosa Department, University of the Western Cape, Private Bag X17, Bellville 7530, South Africa

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 2305-1159
print ISSN: 0257-2117