Cape independence is more than just escaping the ANC
Regardless of where you stand on the topic of Cape independence, you cannot deny that it is an issue which has taken a far more prominent role in the political agenda over the last 2 years.
Reputable, independent polling indicates that there is a high level of support for the idea from the electorate - 46% support according to a 2021 poll. More than 825,000 people have given their mandate for Cape independence to the civil society organisation CapeXit since 2019. 44 councillors were elected on pro-independence mandates in the 2021 local elections, up from 0 in 2016 – this growth being partially driven by the Freedom Front Plus adopting secession as a party policy.
This political shift has been recognised by the DA, which has responded by expressing support for referendums on greater provincial autonomy, with their leader, John Steenhuisen stating “people should have a right to a referendum to make choices going forward.”
Often Cape independence is dismissed as merely a reactionary response to ANC rule in the province. While the ANC-inflicted collapse of South Africa is a driving factor behind the calls to secede, it is merely one of many.
There exists a large ideological gap between the Western Cape and the rest of the country that extends beyond a lack of support for the ANC.
Since 1994, the ANC has never achieved a majority mandate from the Western Cape electorate, with them averaging a vote share in the province around 30% lower than their national vote share. Furthermore, the EFF also underperforms significantly, obtaining only 4% of the vote in the province in 2019, compared to 11% nationally. Together, these parties hold a two thirds majority in the National Assembly, while having the support of less than one third of Western Cape voters.
In a normal democracy, it is understandable that parts of a country will sometimes not get the government they want - California will sometimes have a Republican President and Scotland will sometimes have a Conservative Prime Minister which they both did not elect.
However, in the Western Cape, due to the stark ideological differences, it has never had a government that has aligned with it ideologically and it is unlikely to get one for the foreseeable future. While the ANC is on the decline and may lose their majority in 2024, this merely pushes the country further into more frightening territory. The ANC on 45% is a far more dangerous animal than the ANC on 51%, as the once-distant possibility of an ANC/EFF coalition becomes a reality. An ANC/EFF coalition will result in a government that represents the worst values of both parties - the corruption and incompetence of the ANC mixed with the racial nationalism and violent rhetoric of the EFF. If this is the outcome of the 2024 elections, then it makes the outcome of any future election irrelevant – South Africa would become a failed state, with little prospect of salvation.
Such a coalition would take the already race-heavy focus of the South African government to an even more extreme level, which sets the scene for a clash with the Western Cape on the major issue of culture.
The Western Cape is the most diverse province in South Africa, racially and culturally, and its political culture is one of liberalism and non-racialism.
While the rest of South Africa has only elected old black men to the Presidency since 1994 (and prior to that, only old white men), the Western Cape has elected white, black and brown, male and female, Muslim and Christian individuals to the premiership. Despite attempts to portray the province as a bastion of colonialism, apartheid and racism by African nationalists, it is by far the least racist part of South Africa, with 2016 research by City Press finding that it was the province where respondents felt the least amount of racial discrimination.
Unfortunately, the diversity of the region has always resulted in it having conflict with national government policy, whether it be in past dispensations or in the present.
The imposition of affirmative action on the Western Cape using national demographics, has had a particularly devastating impact on its people, with no one suffering more than the so called “coloureds”. A people discriminated against and marginalised under Apartheid and yet today in the Cape, they are made to continue to suffer, merely for the fact that the concentration of their population is higher in this province than the rest of the country.
The national government seems determined to undermine the language of the majority of the Western Cape – Afrikaans. This is done whether by marginalising the language at Stellenbosch University, pushing to rename the Afrikaans Taalmonument, or attempting to get the language declared non-indigenous. The government never asked for the consent of the voters of the Western Cape for these changes, because they knew they would never receive it.
The economy of the Western Cape has tremendous potential, but is limited by the fact that it is unable to set its own fiscal and monetary policies.
At present the Western Cape produces 14.0% of South African GDP, houses 15.4% of income tax payers, houses 11.9% of South Africa’s population, yet receives only 10.3% of the national budget allocation to provinces. It is one of only two provinces to be net contributors to the national fiscus and thus independence would be an economically viable option for it to take.
Already, the Western Cape outperforms the rest of South Africa, with it having the lowest unemployment rate in the country. However, outperforming South Africa is not a difficult task, and compared with the rest of the developed world the Western Cape is still a borderline disaster.
With independence it would have the freedom to do away with the NHI, expropriation without compensation and many other policies which will have dire consequences for its citizens. It would have the freedom to choose pro-business, pro-growth policies and focus on building wealth in the Western Cape. Wealth which can be utilised to invest in its previously disadvantaged communities. If people begin to see a genuine reduction in racial inequality and an improvement in their living standards, it would reduce racial tensions– economic success will bring Cape communities together.
With independence, control of the province’s finances would be removed from the hands of corrupt politicians in Pretoria, who the Western Cape electorate are unable to get rid of, and instead be in the hands of a government its people elected and that is accountable to them.
Furthermore, if the Western Cape economically prospers, South Africa would benefit too, by having a strong trade partner to its south, which would allow wealth to filter northward in a similar way to how Singapore’s prosperity benefited its neighbours.
Smaller countries work better
Regardless of who governs South Africa after 2024, Cape independence will still be a desirable outcome for the people of the Western Cape, simply due to the fact that small countries have a track record of outperforming large countries.
“Small countries” are best categorised as countries with populations less than 10 million people and when it comes to their success, the facts speak for themselves: out of the top 14 countries with the highest GDP per capita PPP, all are small; 7 of the top 10 countries by HDI are small; 21 out of the top 25 globalised countries are small – the list goes on.
Reducing the size of the country, also increases the level of democracy in that society. The centre of power is brought closer to the people and a smaller number of people are required to exert political change. Furthermore, policies adopted by the country can be better suited to its local populace, where in many large countries one-size-fits-all policies must be imposed across many different regions, which often have their own local needs that are ignored – affirmative action’s impact on the Cape comes to mind.
Cape independence is more than just escaping the ANC
While the primary motivating factor for many who support Cape independence is to remove the ANC from power and prevent the Western Cape from being engulfed by the collapse of South Africa, the fundamental reasons for secession are far greater than that.
Independence will allow its cultures, its economy and most importantly, its democracy to prosper and thrive.
For too long, the people of the Western Cape have been forced to suffer under disastrous dispensations which has led them to being in a constant state of despair. However, with Cape independence, they have a once in a lifetime opportunity to fundamentally change the trajectory of their home for the better. By supporting Cape independence, not only will the people of the Western Cape be able to take full control of their destiny, but they will also be able to overcome their despair and replace it with hope.
Bio: Robert King is a politics, philosophy and economics student, executive member of the Cape Independence Advocacy Group and President of the Cape Youth Front. He is working on inspiring young people to join the Cape independence movement, to allow them to shape their own futures.