CONTROVERSY around proposed street and city names has again surfaced amid allegations that Pretoria's could be changed ahead of the Soccer World Cup.

Deputy Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mashatile yesterday cancelled at the last minute a media briefing on newly approved geographical name changes. The event was aborted after the Freedom Front alleged "hastened attempts" to change Pretoria's name would split South Africans at a time when the government was hoping for increased patriotism and unity.

"Because Pretoria's name is internationally known there will be huge confusion with foreign soccer fans who now suddenly will be attending games in Tshwane," party leader Pieter Mulder said.

There was little understanding on how much emotion was attached to the issue, he said, suggesting that discussion be pursued until a compromise was reached.

Arts and culture spokeswoman Lisa Combrinck said Mashatile had not been happy with "some of the technical matters" and felt they needed to be addressed before a public announcement was made.

She could not elaborate, but ruled out perceptions that the department was afraid of a right- wing reaction, saying it had made many other name changes.

Combrinck also could not rule out an intention to change Pretoria's name, saying the controversy over changing it to Tshwane had been raging for 10 years.

"I don't think the name change (from Pretoria to Tshwane) has fallen off the radar screen," Combrinck said.

Neither was the reason a fear of confusing tourists as Nelspruit, where World Cup matches will be played, was renamed Mbombela.

The department occasionally announced name changes after recommendations from the Geographical Names Council, she said. "It is the authority of the minister to accept or reject name changes as recommended by that committee, or that further work be done."

A government announcement served as an official acceptance of the new names despite being accompanied by a period during which the public could voice objections. The last notification was the Nelspruit- Mbombela change in October.

johwaw@bdfm.co.za