Poll shows DA likely to lose majority control of Western Cape if it opposes independence.
The first major Cape independence poll of 2020 was completed this week. It was commissioned by the Cape Independence Advocacy Group (CIAG), and it was conducted by Gareth van Onselen’s Victory Research. The results are due to be released in early September.
In the poll, 15% of Democratic Alliance (DA) voters stated that they would be less likely to vote for the DA if the party opposes the growing calls for Western Cape independence. Most of them expressed this sentiment strongly. This number is highly significant because, should support for the DA fall by 9.8% or more, they would lose their outright provincial majority.
To add to the DA’s independence conundrum, should they support independence, they would suffer the same fate. There were very few undecided voters, confirming that independence is an evocative subject. The DA can no longer avoid the independence debate and, potentially, they are damned if they do and damned if they do not.
Provide strong leadership
The political solution to the DA’s quandary should be obvious. They may not be able to pick an independence side, but they most certainly can, and must, provide leadership on the issue. From a DA perspective, you would hope that the Maimane era, which heralded their first ever electoral decline, has taught them the dangers of being a ship not firmly anchored to something.
How does strong leadership look when you are not able to pick a side? You stand true to the values upon which your party was founded, and you openly confront the truth, rather than burying your head in the sand and hoping it will go away.
What is the truth? The Western Cape electorate have had enough of ANC misrule. In the poll, 77% of DA supporters, and 73% of all voters, believed that South Africa was regressing. Independence is an obvious solution. The Western Cape has never given the ANC a majority, and they currently only have 29% of the WC vote. Even when DA voters abandoned the party in 2019, the ANC share of the vote also fell. Under international law, the people of the Western Cape have the right to self-determination.
Experts and electorate agree, an independent Cape will be more prosperous
The national government’s own statistics show that the Western Cape is already more efficiently governed than the rest of South Africa. Economists have, thus far, been unanimous in stating that the Western Cape would be more prosperous as an independent country. The electorate agrees with them.
The poll showed that 53% of respondents who voiced an opinion, regardless of their political affiliation, believe that their quality of life would improve in an independent Western Cape. Amongst coloured and white voters, and amongst all voters, regardless of race, under the age of 25, this was substantially stronger, with more than two thirds of them expressing this sentiment.
Independence has now entered the mainstream conversation. It is now daily in the media, and political commentators from both sides of the debate have entered the fray. Investment companies, business organisations, and politicians, all say they are now being asked about independence on a regular basis.
DA voters want an independence referendum
Highly significantly for the DA, many of their own Western Cape MPs and party members support independence. A 2019 poll found that 66% of DA voters wanted a referendum on independence. This new poll echoes that finding exactly, putting the number at 65%. Regardless of political association, 67% of all voters under the age of 25 also want an independence referendum.
So, with what values must the DA confront this truth? I would suggest they should focus on two. Intelligent informed discussion (Freedom of expression), and a commitment to democracy (a referendum if sufficient support is found to exist).
I am going to be bold and suggest a political strategy for the DA that will allow it to remain true to itself and to enhance its reputation, both as a liberal political party, and as a democratic provincial government. A strategy that will look much better on them than cowering in the corner praying no-one mentions the I-word.
A strategy for the DA
I suggest they do three things:
Firstly – Publicly acknowledge what we all already know to be true, that there is a large groundswell of public opinion in favour of Cape independence. Stating a known fact will not weaken them at all, on the contrary, it will confirm to the electorate that the DA is not out of touch with reality, and it will liberate them. They can then start getting ahead of the game, rather than being pulled along by it.
Secondly – Encourage intelligent debate on the subject and contribute to it. No-one should have a better viewpoint on the inner workings of provincial government, or the true nature of the relationship between provincial and national government, than the DA. Allow, encourage even, DA MPs to follow their consciences and publicly declare their personal views. The independence narrative is here, let us please hear both sides of the argument from those best placed to inform us. The DA itself can, and politically, probably must, remain neutral. No one will mind this, but as the political leaders we elected, lead the discussion.
Thirdly – If, after independence has been openly and intelligently discussed, a substantial portion of the Western Cape electorate favour independence, be democratic. Call a people’s referendum. No self-respecting political party or government should ever fear the democratic will of the people.
Facilitating independence debate made UK government stronger
If the DA is nervous about the implications of such a strategy, I would suggest examining how the UK government handled the Scottish independence question. Did it weaken the UK government to acknowledge the groundswell of independence sentiment, to allow and encourage the independence debate to play out in public, and then to hold a people’s referendum? Did their actions make them look stronger or weaker? Do people have more or less respect for them as democrats?
Perhaps a personal anecdote might provide the perfect context for this article.
I am in regular contact with many independence supporters inside the DA. One particular DA MP, when the timing is right, wishes to lead the independence debate, both within the DA, and publicly. In separate discussions about independence, I was asked to reveal, to the DA, the name of this person. Before doing so, I went back to the MP and asked their permission. Their answer was revealing.
“You can reveal my name to anyone who has served in provincial government, or anyone who has served in City (Cape Town) government. They all know just how bad things with the ANC truly are, and they will therefore all also know why independence is the only realistic option”.
I think we should all be able to agree that, in a functioning democracy, both the Western Cape electorate, and the DA itself, need to be hearing what the likes of this DA MP, and the many others like them, truly have to say. Keeping them muted serves no-one, except perhaps the ANC?
To the Western Cape DA I therefore say this: Lead, or lose your democratic majority, the choice is yours.