St George's Park History
Port Elizabeth, South Africa

The Grounds St George's Park - Politician Wants to Rename St George's Park
Politician Wants to Rename St George's Park
George Byron
HAVE you heard the one about legendary St George and the dragon? I thought the tale might be worth re-telling considering the tremendous passion St George has aroused in the Eastern Cape.

HAVE you heard the one about legendary St George and the dragon? I thought the tale might be worth re-telling considering the tremendous passion St George has aroused in the Eastern Cape.

Over the past few weeks it has become increasingly clear that not everyone is over-impressed by the iconic image of a heroic St George on horseback, trampling the serpent-dragon.

With New Zealand playing South Africa at Sahara Oval St George’s tomorrow, its an appropriate time to refer to the renaming debate centred on the old ground.

It started more than 100 years ago when it was decided to name the city’s cricket stadium after the patron saint of England.

Since then, of course, St George has always had a rather special place in Port Elizabeth’s history.

But Nelson Mandela Bay councillor Mike Xego says the moment anybody mentions the name St George’s his blood “shrinks”. The reason for this is that the councillor does not like the colonial connotations of the name.

Xego wants the ground named after the late former Eastern Cape premier, Raymond “Oom Ray” Mhlaba. A strong case could also be made out for the late businessman and legendary pioneering sports personality Dan Qeqe to have the honour.

Xego says by the time the 2010 soccer World Cup is played in South Africa we should be rid of all colonial names.

The name-change debate is stirring strong emotions in the cricket community and the political lobby. It can be expected that cricket’s traditionalists will fight tooth and nail to retain the present name.

Culture and recreation services committee chairman Charmaine Williams, whose committee is responsible for name changes in Mandela Bay, says that a public consultation process is already under way to rename not only the cricket ground, but other establishments as well.

One wonders what the legendary St George would have made of this squabble over his name.

For those unfamiliar with the tale of St George and the dragon it starts with a dragon making its nest at the spring which provides a city with water.

Consequently, the citizens had to temporarily remove the dragon from its nest in order to collect water.

To do so, they offered the dragon a daily human sacrifice. The victim of the day was chosen by drawing lots.

Eventually the “winner” of this lottery happened to be the local princess. She is offered to the dragon but at this point a travelling George arrives.

He faces the dragon, slays it and saves the princess. The grateful citizens then abandon their ancestral paganism and convert to Christianity.

While the “name change debate” rages on, the famous old stadium will be desperately short of Test cricket this summer.

Once ranked among the “big four” Test match venues in South Africa, St George’s has slipped down the pecking order in recent years.

Centurion Park, it appears, has now overtaken St George’s Park as a major Test match cricket venue.

This year, New Zealand and Australia will each play three Tests in South Africa. Australia will play Tests at Newlands, Kingsmead and the Wanderers and New Zealand’s Tests are at Centurion, Newlands and the Wanderers.

The allocation of Tests has left no doubt that St George’s no longer ranks among cricket’s heavyweight Test venues.

But back to the St George’s name-change debate, which will simmer for some time.

These days our national cricket team are called the Proteas and the term “Springbok cricketer” has been consigned to the history books.

And in a few more years it seems likely that the name St George’s will disappear as well. But the game will go on and some might well argue: “What’s in a name, anyway?”

Weekend Post
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