What’s In A Name?

Liliesleaf Farm tour guide Tracey Mmabjala Kutso Rapelego explains how opponents of Apartheid hid from police in the early 1960s. Photo by Mohini Tangri

The walls are covered with the colored drawings of children. There are cards, notes and pictures, all written to honor Nelson Mandela, the first post-apartheid president of South Africa. During our tour yesterday, we visited Liliesleaf Farm where Mandela and other political leaders hid from police in the early 1960s as they fought to overthrow the apartheid government. We visited the room where Mandela lived while he stayed at the farm for 18 months. In their cards and drawings, some children referred to Mandela as Madiba, which was his given African name. Tracey Mmabjala Kutso Rapelego, our tour guide, told us that when Mandela started school as a child, his teacher gave him the Western name Nelson. It was typical for South African children to be given and called by Western names in school. But at home, they were called by their African names. Tracey said she got her name because her mother liked it. She’d heard it because it was the name of one of the white women she worked for. But Tracey said she prefers to go by her middle name, Kutso, meaning peace. She said in South Africa today, more people are going by their African names rather than Western names. This reminded me of my own father. His full name is Patrick Charles Mugo Mutungi, but he prefers to go by Mugo Mutungi because he is proud that he is from Kenya. From the beginning of colonization, the West has left a mark on many African countries. But I’m amazed by the push in South Africa towards de-colonization, which includes everything from education to something as small as a name.

–Elizabeth Mugo