Cape Independence - Who's Decision is it Anyway?

PRESS ARTICLE: Is the Western Cape entitled to self-determination? Does it have it?

“Do you want the Western Cape to break away from South Africa, meaning that it will no longer remain a part of the Republic, and to form a new sovereign state?”

This is how a referendum question on Cape Independence might look.

In the run up to the Local Government Elections Cape Independence has been thrust into the political spotlight. Senior political figures from across the political spectrum have been sharing their opinions on the issue, and the media have finally woken up to the reality that Cape Independence is a genuine possibility.

Cape Independence a secondary question

Whilst the focus has inevitably been on how people feel about the issue, there is a far more important ideological contest playing out in the subtext. It is a battle that will now inevitably come to a head, and for the moment, Cape Independence is actually secondary to it.

On 3rd October 1994, South Africa signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 1, Part 1, reads:

“All peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”

On 4th February 1997, South Africa adopted the current constitution. Section 235 reads:

“The right of the South African people as a whole to self-determination, as manifested in this Constitution, does not preclude, within the framework of this right, recognition of the notion of the right of self-determination of any community sharing a common cultural and language heritage, within a territorial entity in the Republic or in any other way, determined by national legislation.”

Under both international law and the South African constitution, the right to self-determination is assured.

Democratic Will of the Western Cape People

In a statement emailed to the Cape Independence Advocacy Group (CIAG) last month, the ANC stated:

“There is no ‘democratic wishes of the people of the Western Cape’ but ‘democratic wishes of the people of South Africa’ should a need for any referendum be entertained. In other words, all people of South Africa should participate in a referendum process should any arise.”

This is highly significant. The party of national government is explicitly stating that the people of the Western Cape do not have a right to self-determination. They are not alone. The EFF, ActionSA, the Patriotic Alliance and Al-Jama-ah have all either implicitly or explicitly made the same claim.

In the coming months, as pressure is systematically ramped up by political forces within the Western Cape, it will be fascinating to see what argument the ANC and its partners use to justify their position. Given that the Western Cape elects a provincial government every five years, and provincial voters are clearly demarcated in the electoral roll, an argument that they don’t have ‘democratic wishes’ is not going to withstand too much scrutiny.

Provincial Referendums will force issue of self-determination

That pressure will not just be coming from the Cape Independence movement, but from a broad alliance of political parties and civic organisations. Collectively they are the dominant political force in the Western Cape and will enjoy the support of a clear majority of the Western Cape people.

The DA are intent on calling provincial referendums, and their Electoral Commission Amendment Act, which will clear the legislative hurdles preventing them from doing so, is expected to reach the parliamentary committee stage by November this year.

The Freedom Front Plus (VF Plus), the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), Cope, the United Independent Movement (UIM), the Cape Independence Party (CIP), and the Cape Coloured Congress (CCC) all support a provincial referendum to determine the democratic will of the Western Cape people. In other words, they recognise that the right to self-determination applies to the Western Cape people.

Internal vs External self-determination

Once the DA starts calling referendums the ANC is going to find itself on the horns of an almighty dilemma.

Self-determination takes two forms. Internal self-determination, where the ‘people’ have the means to exercise their right to self-determination within the context of a larger state. And external self-determination, where those ‘people’ must break away from the parent state in order to meaningfully exercise this right. As a rule of thumb, other countries are only willing to support secession where meaningful internal self-determination has been denied.

The DA, as the party of provincial government, is calling for more provincial powers. They have asked for power over policing in the province, transport, ports and most recently taxation. They are asking for the enabling legislation for provincial referendums to be made constitutional. They are supported by an overwhelming majority of the Western Cape people, and they have broad political and civic support.

If the ANC denies them the meaningful internal self-determination they are asking for, they will be making it significantly easier for the Western Cape to obtain international support for external self-determination.

ANC planning to reduce provincial powers

The ANC have made a rocky start by allowing loose cannon Bheki Cele to lead a debate over provincial devolution in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) last month. In response to rampant crime and a grossly underfunded and badly managed police force, the Western Cape Government has appointed over 1000 extra provincially funded police officers, as well as asking for more control over SAPS in the province. Cele responded by saying not only was the ANC not going to grant more control, but they intended to remove the few powers the province currently has.

A referendum result showing that the Western Cape people overwhelmingly want control over policing in the province, and a national government steadfastly refusing to concede that control, would demonstrate that the people of the Western Cape do not have self-determination, at least not on that specific issue.

Add in referendum questions on cadre deployment, race-based policy, taxation, federalism and independence and it will quickly become abundantly clear that the Western Cape does not have self-determination full-stop.

The Cape Independence debate is going to thrust self-determination into the spotlight, and not just in the Western Cape.

“Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner”, or as Helen Zille put it to Tito Mboweni on twitter last week, “Where people don’t vote for ANC, they don’t deserve to live under a failed state.”

This article was published in Afrikaans by Maroela Media

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