What South Africa must learn from Brexit
Brexit, the most popular international soap opera of the last decade. You did not need to have a dog in the fight to have an opinion. For many, that opinion was collective insanity and the rise of the right. The truth was a lot more complicated than that.
The COVID-19 crisis has brought the South African government's many failings into sharp focus. It has exposed the true state of the government health system and their complete inability to add capacity despite their assurances and the urgent necessity to do so. It has demonstrated the government’s slavish devotion to central planning at all costs and their willingness to resort to draconian measures to enforce their views, even against the advice of their own scientific advisors. It has revealed the extent to which the government is committed to the darker side of the ‘National democratic revolution’, resorting to race as a criterion through which to select aid recipients. Inevitably, it has also proven, once again, that human suffering is not an impediment to rampant corruption.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the people of the Cape are finding their voice. They did not elect this government, and, in 26 years, they have never given it a majority. In 2020 there has been a 400% rise in membership of Cape Independence groups. Approximately 15% of the Cape electorate now either follow an independence group or have signed an online petition demanding independence, providing their ID number in the process. Last week, the Cape Independence Advocacy Group, a political lobby group seeking that the Western Cape should secede from South Africa and become an independence sovereign country, commissioned Gareth van Onselen's Victory Research to conduct the first major independence poll since 2019. It will measure the current level of support for independence in the province.
As we await the outcome of that poll it is worth examining Brexit a little more deeply. In all the noise you almost certainly never got to read what was one of the most insightful reflections on why the world got Brexit so terribly wrong. It should become required reading for those keen to understand, or dismiss, the notion of Cape independence.
An Irish Viewpoint
The article in question was not penned in the United Kingdom, but in Dublin. It was titled ‘The Irish media does not understand Great Britain. Or Brexit. Or the Election’.
The article’s author, John McGuirk, editor-in-chief of Irish online news channel ‘Gript’, systematically packs out the prevailing Brexit narrative that somehow the ‘leave’ vote was the freak convergence of a multitude of factors, and that a second referendum would see sanity prevail. Negative associations were assigned to those advocating for a leave vote: anti-immigration, racial bigotry and a lack of understanding. The further break-up of the United Kingdom was touted as the inevitable consequence should the UK electorate not turn from its chosen path.
Having established the backdrop, McGuirk recounts the unrestrained glee with which the Irish media reported the repeated parliamentary defeats UK prime minister Boris Johnson endured following Theresa May’s resignation, increasingly confident that natural order would soon return.
So as to understand what came next, it is worth reminding ourselves what Brexit was truly about.
Background to Brexit
Brexit had its roots in the Maastricht Treaty of 1993, where the European Economic Community (EEC), essentially a finance and trade organisation, became the European Union (EU), a political authority. This resulted in a loss of sovereignty to individual nations, with a substantial degree of political control being handed to Europe. A referendum was never held in the UK to ratify the treaty, since, at the time, all three major political parties supported it. As a direct consequence a series of Eurosceptic groups arose: Oxford Campaign for an Independent Britain (1990), United Kingdom Independence Party – UKIP (1991/1993), Referendum Party (1994) and the Brexit Party (2019).
Post Maastricht, the consequences of European control began to be exhibited. Some were major national issues. Alice Weidel, leader of the German opposition party, lambasted the German government, accusing them of complicity in Brexit: “What did (British Prime Minister) David Cameron ask for that was so wrong? No immediate welfare for immigrants, a stronger national Parliament, less bureaucracy?” She went on to accuse them of blindly following France and their "central organisation and resulting failed industrial policy". Others were more mundane, but equally emotive, like the ‘Metric Martyrs’ case’ where UK market traders were prohibited from selling fruit and vegetables in the imperial weights that their elderly customers understood, being forced by the EU to use metric weights instead.
A Lesson for South Africa
McGuirk’s article was written the day after Boris Johnson’s landslide victory in the UK general election, a victory McGuirk described by saying “He (Johnson) won a bigger share of the UK vote than any politician in 40 years” After further discussion of the Irish “commentariat’s” continued inability to correctly analyse what had just occurred, he penned this insightful paragraph:
“An Ireland that does not understand the motivations for Brexit is an Ireland that is entirely unequipped to combat those motivations should they ever appear on our own soil. For a country so obsessed as we are, with our own independence, to completely fail to comprehend the desire of British voters to make their own decisions, is mind boggling. To write off all Euroscepticism as driven by bigotry or small mindedness, or to pretend that voters don’t understand what they are being asked, is itself the most dreadful bigotry.”
Substitute South Africa for Ireland and Cape voters for British ones and read that paragraph again.
Understanding Cape Independence
The peoples of the Western Cape do not have political control of their own destiny. It does not matter who they elect, they are governed by whomever the rest of South Africa chooses. There is a clear ideological divide between the peoples of the Western Cape and the peoples of South Africa. Not once in 26 years of democracy have the Western Cape electorate given the ANC a majority. In 2020, with 28.6% of the Cape vote, the ANC, is dictating policy to the party with 55% of the vote.
Political opponents of independence are repeating the same trite arguments McGuirk called the Irish out for: that Cape independence is about preserving racial hegemony and that coloured and black independence supporters do not understand the issue and are mere puppets. Even Western Cape Premier Alan Winde, finally breaking his silence on independence, and whilst acknowledging that the DA ‘get asked this question fairly regularly’, repeated the rather lame Irish sentiment of how it might lead to the further break-up of the Cape. What he notably did not address, is why it would be in the people of the Cape’s best interest to remain in such a destructive relationship with South Africa. That is the key question, and, if he and the DA cannot find an answer for that and quickly, they are going to be in for an uncomfortable ride.
Whatever potential fate lay in store for the British people had they voted to stay in the EU, it pales into insignificance when compared to what South Africa has in store for the Cape. The Cape people have rejected the gross incompetence and pandemic corruption with which the ANC rule. They have rejected BEE and Cadre deployment which are the primary mechanisms for enacting corruption. They have rejected EWC and the devastating consequences it will have on the economic welfare of all Cape citizens. They have rejected NHI and have seen first-hand just how incapable the South African state is of delivering decent health care to its charges. Most of all they have rejected the insidious racial nationalistic narrative that systematically marginalises the majority of Cape citizens who aspire to a genuinely non-racial country.
Importance of electing your own government
For those who read this to mean Cape independence is about rejecting the ANC, let me correct you – Cape independence is about the internationally enshrined right to be able elect your own government and to be able to hold it to account. The ANC are simply the best proof imaginable as to why that right exists and why it is so critically important to a fully functioning democracy.
Brexit was the result of ordinary British citizens bringing the politicians that lead them to heel. Cape independence is its South African cousin. Politicians beware.
This article was first published on News24