Divorce is the perfect metaphor through which to examine the growing calls for a Cape independent from South Africa. Not only does it help simplify what would otherwise be quite a complicated scenario under international law, it is also a powerful tool with which to dissect the political responses of those who resort to reasonable-sounding, yet ultimately hollow, retorts.
The Western Cape has found itself in an abusive relationship with a partner significantly more powerful than itself. This partner is not interested in the opinions or the well being of its Western Cape spouse. It is simply intent on imposing its will and to hell with the consequences.
As the saying goes, democracy is supposed to be about something more than two wolves and a sheep voting over what is for dinner.
So, what advice would you give if a close friend confided that her husband was abusing her? If she told you that he was taking her salary and only giving a portion of it back to her? That he was squandering the money she helped earn on wild living and extravagant luxuries for himself, while she was struggling to provide the basic necessities for their children? If she told you that every time she disagreed with him, he told her she was worthless, and that all of their problems were her fault? That every decision was his, that she must remain silent and just accept the consequences even though she knew better? That her children were really suffering?
I think most of us would be inclined to tell her to take her children and leave. To tell her that she would be better off on her own. That while it may be difficult, in the end she will never find happiness in such a relationship, and that starting again, however hard, would be her best option.
Well, that is how very many people living in the Western Cape have started to feel about South Africa. They didn’t vote for the African National Congress (ANC), the conduct of the ANC government repulses them, they don’t support the policies of the ANC but have them forced upon them anyway, and when they complain they are verbally abused and cowed into silence.
It does not have to be this way.
On 31 December 1992, the Czech and Slovak peoples divorced. Historians refer to this historical event as the ‘Velvet Divorce’. The reason for the split was the differing ethnic and political composition of the two peoples. Discussions began in July 1992 and were completed in five months. The assets of the existing Czechoslovakia were split in proportion to the relative populations, and citizens, subject to certain criteria, were given the opportunity to be citizens of either Czechia or Slovakia. Not a shot was fired.
Eighty-seven years earlier, Norway and Sweden also peacefully divorced, stating ideological differences. More recently, Quebec and Scotland both came within a democratic whisker of divorcing Canada and the United Kingdom respectively. Singapore did divorce Malaysia, and Namibia divorced South Africa. This is far from an exhaustive list.
Accepting that any Western Cape divorce would have to be premised upon the democratic will of the Western Cape peoples, in other words that they genuinely want to leave, what do the political parties have to say about a Cape divorce?
This is where our metaphor really comes into its own.
Democratic Alliance (DA) interim leader John Steenhuisen, when questioned about Cape independence by Jeremy Nell on Jerm Warfare, suggested (wrongly as it transpires) that the Cape would be financially worse off.
Would you have told your friend not to leave her abusive husband because she might be a little poorer?
Western Cape Premier Alan Winde, when questioned about Cape independence by Investec on behalf of their clients, responded by asking what would stop an independent Cape further splitting down the line.
Would you have told your friend not to leave her abusive husband because should she remarry again in the future, she might split up again?
DA councillor Renaldo Gouws, while hosting a podcast with the Cape Independence Advocacy Group, suggested that independence might solicit a violent response from the ANC.
Would you have told your friend not to leave her husband, because if she did, he might come after her and beat her?
On the independence forums, other favourites among opponents are ‘Who is going to pay for Koeberg?’, ‘the ANC will never let you leave’, ‘it is all of South Africa’s decision’, ‘how will you close the border?’, ‘who gets to keep Simon’s Town naval base?’ and many more in a similar vein.
Would you have focused on whether your friend would have to pay the car loan; discouraged her by saying he would never let you go; told her it was also her husband’s decision; asked her how she intended to lock the doors of her new house; or asked who would get the sideboard?
Of course you wouldn’t. First and foremost, you would focus on one thing and one thing alone: What is in the best interests of your friend and her children, and how are you going to help them escape her abusive partner?
Since its inception earlier this year, the Cape Independence Advocacy Group has posed the same question to the leaders of the DA and other political parties, to newspaper editors and opinion writers, and to opponents of independence. To date not one public figure has been willing to respond to the critical Cape independence question: Why would it be in the best interests of the people of the Cape to remain in a relationship with South Africa?
Does anyone have an intelligent answer? If not, can we please just get on with the divorce?
This article was first published by the Daily Friend (South African Institute of Race Relations)