As a co-founder of the Cape Independence Advocacy Group (CIAG), I read RW Johnson’s recent article, “Thinking about State failure (III)”, and its description of the Cape Independence landscape, with great interest.
Johnson sketched out a scenario in which the ANC would inevitably lose functional power over South Africa to what the Democratic Alliance’s (DA) Gwen Ngwenya described as a ‘parallel state’, leaving a ‘Potemkin government’ interested only in their own perks.
The ANC he reasoned had no appetite for greater provincial autonomy, whilst the DA had no stomach for the fight, given the inevitable name calling that would follow any confrontation over power with the party of liberation. Progress would therefore be dependent upon a ‘third party’ – either ‘one of the Cape independence groups’ or the ‘Freedom front plus’ seizing the initiative.
Outside of the Cape he singles out the wider Solidarity movement as by far the most capable civic organisation, and the only one with the potential to step into the void vacated by an absent State, listing many of their achievements to date, each in many ways personifying Ngwenya’s parallel state.
What Johnson perhaps doesn’t appreciate is the level of interaction between these various groups.
Understand the Cape Independence Landscape
To better understand the Cape independence arena it is necessary to recognise the full spectrum of positions along the continuum of greater regional autonomy.
Twelve months ago advocating for full federal autonomy for the Western Cape would have been perceived as a fairly radical political proposition. In the course of just one year it has almost become conservative, viewed by some as the sensible compromise position. This is the position the DA formally holds, having adopted it as a policy, alongside non-racialism, in 2020.
However, ascribing any singular position to a large diverse political party will never hold true.
Western Cape Premier Alan Winde, not long ago, was considered to be at the vanguard of the drive for increased provincial autonomy, promoting additional powers for policing, transport and electricity for the Western Cape. The DA’s 2019 Western Cape provincial manifesto was built around these concepts. Now Winde is perceived by many as a humourless bureaucrat, not only meekly complying with nonsensical government regulation during lockdown, but even voluntarily upping the ante such as his proposed amendments to the Western Cape Liquor Act.
This is somewhat at odds with other factions of the DA who, simultaneously with Winde’s kowtowing, are taking legal advice on how far they can push the legislative envelope in the Western Cape by acting first and asking later. As one senior DA source put it to me, “We’ve had enough of taking the national government to court to obtain permission, we are going to start acting and make them take us to court to try and stop us”.
On this point the DA finds itself fully aligned with the independence movement, who will cheer on any act of defiance, as will several of the other smaller political parties. As Johnson points out, this is also exactly the model of ‘self-determination’ which Solidarity and Afriforum are themselves driving.
DA may stop short of outright legal defiance, others will not
The DA will probably stop short of outright legal defiance, but many others will have no such compunction, perhaps, for example, calling for rates boycotts. Again, Johnson correctly states “In general, tax payers regard their payment of taxes and charges as optional”, citing the examples of traffic fines and TV licences. Peter Marais of the Bruin Bemagtiging Beweging and the Freedom Front plus is a firm believer in appropriating ‘de-facto’ independence one bite at a time.
Beyond the ‘de-facto autonomists’ are the independence groups who seek full secession now and with no half-measures. All the major groups are committed to a peaceful and democratic process, but not one of them will bat an eyelid before telling you that a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) is a genuine possibility, and not one that remotely concerns them. The international community and not the South African constitution are presumed to be the final authority.
What is of critical significance, and if Johnson understands this he didn’t articulate it, is that these organisations are no longer acting in isolation, but are increasingly coordinating their actions into what is establishing itself as a powerful political force.
In December, the ‘Cloetesville march for Cape independence’ offered a brief glimpse behind the scenes of the independence movement. The CIAG, CapeXit, the Cape party, the Freedom front plus and the Bruin Bemagtiging Beweging marched together, shared a stage, and jointly handed over a petition to the DA demanding that, in the event that there were sufficient support, the DA would respect the democratic process and call a referendum on Cape independence.
Cape independence and the local elections
The 2021 local elections will see even greater collaboration. The CIAG and CapeXit, both of whom are politically non-aligned, will be providing their respective supporters with a list of candidates in each ward who support a referendum on independence, and encouraging them to vote for a candidate on the list. DA councillors, many of whom will be directly elected, will be forced to make a decision whether they support or oppose a referendum, and will have no party list to hide behind.
Whether they formalise an arrangement or not, the Cape Party and the Freedom front plus will work in tandem to chip away at the DA’s voter base, seeking leverage with which to force the DA into calling a referendum. It is highly likely that other parties including the Cape Coloured Congress will be pulling in the same broad direction. In turn, the DA as a party will be forced to decide just how hard they wish to oppose a movement that would likely see them elected as a national government.
The local elections may serve as an early warning system, but perhaps the greatest disruption will come from initiatives designed to strip power from the central government, co-opting it to the province.
There are positions where all of these groups are in almost complete agreement, from the DA itself to the independence groups, and everyone in between. In a CIAG poll in 2020, 68% of all Western Cape voters believed more power should be given to the provincial government. This view was held by all race groups, and the voters of all major political parties, including even the ANC.
Policing issues may be a catalyst for greater change
Policing is a major issue in the Western Cape. The province has the second highest murder rate in South Africa, and accounts for over 80% of all gang related crime. The South African Police Service (SAPS) is national competency, and has been presided over by a series of political appointees, with the last five, spanning a period of two decades, having all left their positions as a result of alleged corruption or misconduct. In 2018, the Western Cape was allocated 1 police person for each 509 citizens compared with the national average of 1 per 369.
In 2019, the Western Cape DA made an election promise of “leading the fight to devolve policing powers and budgets from national to provincial government”. If it can’t deliver on this promise, then at some point soon this is a horse that the DA is going to discover has been saddled for it.
A fight for control of the police could be the perfect political storm. A coordinated campaign by either the independence movement or civic organisations demanding a properly resourced, locally accountable police force would meet almost universal approval in the province. The DA would be obliged to support the move – given their election promises how could they not? The national government would vehemently oppose the proposal – the notion of a territory with a growing secession movement taking control of the police would be unthinkable.
Win win scenario
With province firmly pitted against state, all outcomes would be favourable to the independence campaign. Either a major victory would be won, devolving significant power to the province, and no doubt inviting further demands from a movement with the wind in its sails, or the DA will have demonstrated the fatal impotence of its federal agenda, the necessity for more radical measures will have proven, and a far wider group than secessionists will have had their ire raised.
A failed state may be an eventuality that we all wish to avoid, but it certainly won’t be one devoid of political opportunity. The stars are starting to align for Western Cape secessionists.
This article first appeared in the Rational Standard. https://rationalstandard.com/50-shades-of-treason-response-to-rw-johnson-on-cape-independence/