Members of the Press
Ladies and Gentlemen
Thank you for this opportunity to address you on a subject which is not only close to my heart, but also one which is beginning to play a significant role in the Western Cape, and by extension, South African politics.
Our theme for today is:
What is driving support for Cape independence and what might the political impact be?
Before I start, I’d like to frame this debate.
Cape Independence is about what is best for the people of the Western Cape. It is a decision for them, and them alone, to make.
Whilst most of us have friends and relatives in the rest of South Africa and we will always have a special bond with South Africa, what is best for the rest of South Africa and the people who live there, is not the responsibility of Western Cape voters.
The rest of South Africa has the government it votes for. The Western Cape does not.
Responsibility for the rest of South Africa lies with the voters who live there.
Let me begin.
If it transpires today that the Lasagne was more interesting than me, I want you to please remember just this one sentence:
We have a problem, that Cape independence can fix, when nothing else will.
If you understand this sentiment, then you understand what drives support for Cape Independence.
So, let’s think about that for a while.
We have a problem ….
I don’t need to stand here and explain to anyone in this room the problems that are currently facing South Africa.
What does seem to get forgotten, however, on a fairly regular basis, is that eight South African provinces have consistently voted in favour of those problems, whilst the ninth province has consistently voted for a solution.
The Western Cape has NEVER given the ANC a majority in the province, yet the ANC are currently making all the crucial policy decisions, affecting the lives of every Western Cape citizen, with just 28.6% of the vote.
I talk a lot about Cape Independence, and one fascinating observation is just how scared people are to engage with the big picture. There is comfort, it seems, in hiding behind the technicalities.
How will you protect the borders? The ANC will never allow it! It’ll never happen!
What is the big picture? It’s ideological. The Western Cape and the rest of South Africa fundamentally want different things.
Sure, we want similar outcomes, but we are worlds apart when it comes to what we think must be done to solve our problems.
Political analysts make the mistake of looking at either provinces in isolation, or South Africa as a whole. What they typically don’t do is examine the Western Cape and then compare it to the rest of South Africa.
I’d like to suggest that if they did, we would all understand our political reality a little better.
For example, whilst the ANC received its lowest ever share of the vote in the Western Cape in 2019, in the rest of South Africa, the ANC and EFF combined achieved their highest ever share of the vote.
The notion that South Africa is slowly coming to its senses simply isn’t true.
Outside the Western Cape, 73.1% of voters opted for ‘racial socialism’. South Africa is becoming more radicalised.
It is crucial that we understand this, because it helps us to understand the ‘We’
‘We’, the people of the Western Cape, have a problem, because ‘you’ the people of the rest of South Africa keep inflicting that problem upon us every timethere is an election, and, in the context of a unified South African state, we, the people of the Western Cape, are utterly powerless to stop you.
Well, that is democracy you might say, and of course you would be right.
Our elections have been broadly free and fair. No one is suggesting that, despite their many faults, the ANC is anything other than the democratically and legitimately elected government of South Africa.
Democracy: Government of the people, by the people, for the people.
But does the Western Cape have democracy?
There is a very strong argument that Western Cape does not have functional democracy.
If you don’t have the government the majority of your people voted for, but instead you have the government you have done everything in your power to reject, and you have no realistic prospect of ever getting the government you want ……. do you have functional democracy?
As a consequence of our democratic problem, we have an ideological problem. The Western Cape has emphatically demonstrated at the ballot box that it favours non-racialism and a market economy, where the rest of South Africa does not. (And those students of history among you will understand how non-racialism is woven into the liberal traditions of the Cape)
As a result of that ideological problem, we have tangible physical problems; we continue to labour under the burden of poverty, of unemployment, and of crime.
In the Western Cape, 33% of our population live below the upper international poverty line.
In the Western Cape, even pre-covid, 21% of our population were unemployed.
And were the Western Cape to be an independent state today, we would have the second highest murder rate in the world behind only El-Salvador
In the Western Cape, We have a problem
We have a problem, that Cape independence can fix. …
Cape Independence would, for the very first time in history, allow the people of the Western Cape as a whole, regardless of race, religion or culture, to elect the government of their own choosing.
Equally importantly, Cape independence would allow the people of the Western Cape to unelect the government if it does not perform.
The Western Cape would have functional democracy.
With functional democracy, the Western Cape would then be free to embrace the ideology of non-racialism and a market economy.
In doing so, it would then be equipped to address poverty, unemployment and crime in a meaningful way, offering hope and the realistic prospect of a better life for all the people of the Western Cape.
John Steenhuisen says that many people are calling for independence because they have seen how well the DA governs. To be fair to him, there is probably a lot of truth in this.
Compared to South Africa as a whole, the people of the Western Cape are:
Less likely to be living in poverty, less likely to be unemployed, less likely to die in early childhood, more likely to pass matric and more likely to obtain a tertiary qualification.
But I think in making his claim, John has missed two vitally important points.
Firstly, the only reason the DA was in a position to show how well it could govern was because first the people of the Western Cape were in a position to elect them. Without Cape independence, even if they want to, the people of the Western Cape cannot elect a national DA government, whilst the people of the rest of South Africa have made it abundantly clear that they don’t want a national DA government.
Secondly, whilst the Western Cape outperforms the rest of South Africa, it lags far behind its international peers. Better than the incompetent, corrupt, shambolic mess, which South Africa has become, is not the yardstick by which the Western Cape should be measuring itself.
If the Western Cape wants to perform on a par with or better than its peers, it simply cannot have a ANC-led government, coalition or otherwise, making its decisions for it.
We have a problem, that Cape independence can fix, when nothing else will.
What other solutions would solve the Western Cape’s problems?
The DA is proposing federalism. So, would this fix the problem?
Setting aside the fact that procedurally, federalism would actually be much harder to deliver than independence, who would be left controlling economic policy and the national budget in a federal South Africa?
Can the Western Cape realistically resolve poverty and unemployment without having control over economic policy, leaving it instead to the 73% of voters in the rest of South Africa, who wish to place economic policy in the hands of either the ANC or the EFF?
Who would control the constitution and the prevailing ideology?
Catalonia’s thus far unsuccessful attempts to obtain independence are never far from the lips of those wishing to discourage advocates for Cape Independence, but how many people in this room are aware that the recent clashes in Catalonia were sparked when, on the 28th of June 2010, the Spanish Constitutional Court struck down sections of the ‘2006 Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia’, after it had been passed by the Catalan parliament, and ratified in Spain’s national assembly.
It took Spain just four years to take away the autonomous rights it had given to Catalonia. In a parallel that I am sure is lost on no-one, the downgrading of the Catalan language was the most controversial issue.
Prof. Koos Malan, professor of Public Law at the University of Pretoria, is on record as saying that whilst we can still get a procedurally fair judgement in the South African Constitutional Court, it is already no longer possible to get an ideologically fair judgement.
So federalism would be almost impossible to achieve, would still leave the South African national government in charge of economic policy, and could be revoked or amended by an ideologically compromised constitutional court.
Does that sound like a better solution than having our own government, making our own decisions, and having our own ideologically fair legal system?
Federalism would allow the Western Cape to continue to enact damage limitation. It would in all likelihood allow it to do so more effectively, but it certainly does not prevent another territory which is ideologically distinct from the Western Cape dominating it. In turn, it will leave the issues of poverty and unemployment largely unresolved.
If the DA want federalism, what about the ANC and the EFF?
The ANC and the EFF don’t want to fix the problem. The ANC governs with 28.6% of the vote. For them Cape independence would be the problem. They are African nationalists and the prospects of a sub-sub-Saharan Africa is an anathema to them, regardless of the democratic will of the people who live there.
The only other solution on offer is coalition politics. I’m not sure we need to dwell too long on the merits of that. Not only have we seen all too vividly the pitfalls of coalition government, but why would the people of the Western Cape risk all on a wild throw of the dice when they can just have the government of their own choosing?
Other than Cape independence, no other solution will deliver political power to the people of the Western Cape allowing them to choose their own government and to see the policies they voted for enacted in the province.
What is driving support for Cape Independence?
We have a problem, that Cape independence can fix, when nothing else will – This is what is driving support for Cape Independence.
Before I move on to the second part of our theme for today, I want to touch briefly on a word I have used several times already in my speech, and it is a concept that is the source of intense debate in South Africa; Non-racialism.
Non-racialism is a founding principle of the organisation I represent, the Cape Independence Advocacy Group, or the CIAG. It is also a policy adopted last year by the party of provincial government in the Western Cape, the DA.
Few people in South Africa openly embrace racism, and those that do are generally quite rightly rounded upon from all sides, but non-racialism is far more controversial.
In South Africa, ‘Racism that seeks to undo the damage of racism isn’t actually racism’ is the prevailing political view, and, in a South African context, this argument is almost exclusively focused on black and white.
But the largest racial group in the Western Cape are the so-called ‘coloured’ people, who, according to both the apartheid government and the current one, are neither black nor white.
In coloured communities, “too black for the last government, too white for this one” is a popular refrain.
Independent polling shows that 60% of independence supporters are ‘coloured’, whilst CapeXit, a leading civic organisation with almost 800 000 registered independence supporters, also claim that 60% of those who have signed a mandate with them for Cape Independence, are coloured.
So I would like to ask that, for a moment, each person in this room pause and reflect on the issues that are uniquely faced by coloured people in the Western Cape.
This is what Judge Nugent had to say in the constitutional court about their plight:
“I see no rationality in restricting half the population of the Western Cape to 8.8% of employment opportunities in that province.”
“in the Western Cape 9 of each 100 work opportunities are made accessible to some 2.8 million coloured people, while 1.9 million Black African people have access to 73”.
These comments of course refer to the national government policy of Affirmative Action and I’d like you to consider this:
Were Affirmative Action to be implemented on the basis of language rather than skin colour, people would understand the plight of coloured people in the Western Cape infinitely better.
I will leave you to imagine what the outcome would be of informing KwaZulu Natal that 15% of all work opportunities in the province must go to isiXhosa speakers, while 25% of all Eastern Cape jobs must go to Zulu speakers.
I think we can all imagine how that would work out? So why do we do it to ‘coloured’ people?
I’d now like to address the second part of our theme for today.
What might the political impact of Cape independence be?
Cape Independence is a political market disrupter.
Since 1994, political debate has largely taken place within the context of party politics.
But Cape Independence is not a concept being driven by established political parties, it is an idea being driven by an active citizenry who are seeking to reject the system that they believe isn’t working for them.
In the Western Cape, the status quo is the DA who are in their third straight term as the provincial government. They are the system, and that has set the DA and the independence movement on a collision course.
In August2020, the CIAG commissioned Victory Research to conduct the first major poll on Cape independence.
It showed that 65% of independence supporters vote DA, whilst 64% of Western Cape DA voters support holding a referendum on independence.
The independence movement must go through the DA to win independence, whilst the DA cannot maintain its provincial majority without independence supporters voting for them in significant numbers.
Between now and the next provincial election in 2024, unless the DA and the independence movement can find a way to accommodate each other, this is a political battle which will inevitably come to a head.
In his book, Diffusion of Innovations, Professor Everett Rogers defined the process through which ideas are adopted. He categorised those adopting new ideas into one of five groups: innovators, early adopters, the early majority, the late majority and laggards, and at some point, he says, if an idea is to be adopted, it must achieve what he calls ‘critical mass’.
We have already discussed how independence is being driven by those who perceive it to be a solution to serious problems which are rapidly worsening. Using Rogers’ definition, Cape independence has entered the early majority stage, but has not yet achieved critical mass; critical mass being the point where the rate of adoption becomes self-sustaining.
To achieve critical mass, the independence movement faces two significant challenges.
Firstly, it needs to convince would-be supporters that independence is actually achievable. In the poll, 74% of Western Cape DA voters and 80% of all Western Cape voters did not believe that the ANC would ever allow independence.
Then, secondly, it needs to convince primarily DA voters that voting against the DA for a pro-independence party would not allow the ANC back into power provincially but would instead force the DA into a referendum on Cape Independence.
The DA, on the other hand, needs to convince independence supporters that no matter how badly flawed it may be, their best option still lies within the current system, and by them continuing to vote DA.
But the DA faces significant challenges of its own.
Firstly, they haven’t got much fat built into their provincial majority.
In the independence poll, 15% of Western Cape DA voters indicated that they were willing to vote against the DA if they opposed independence. In 2019, had everything else remained the same, this would have left the DA with 47% of the vote.
Then the DA are very exposed on provincial issues.
There is no benefit to the people of the Western Cape to remain in a relationship with South Africa. What does the Western Cape get out of that relationship? A government it doesn’t want, and, as one of only two net income producing provinces, a tax bill for the privilege.
The DA knows that the Western Cape would be better off alone; it isn’t even trying to argue otherwise. When independence first emerged as a political issue, the DA focused instead on the practical problems that obtaining independence would present.
More recently it has switched tack. Over the last 12 months we have seen the DA visibly strengthen its resolve to obtain greater provincial autonomy for the Western Cape and it is now trying to sell a watered-down version of independence which would be more palatable to the 69% of DA voters who live outside the Western Cape.
And therein lies the rub, what is best for the rest of South Africa and what is best for the Western Cape may not be the same thing (although, ironically, I would strongly suggest that an independent Western Cape would be excellent news for South Africa).
The DA have a winning hand in the Western Cape. If they want to, they can call for a referendum tomorrow. Instead, they are pulling their punches and selling their own Western Cape voters short, the majority of whom they themselves acknowledge support independence. They are trying to sell a compromise that solves their problems, but not ours. They are trying to not upset their non-Western Cape voters.
On this issue I believe they are going to be ruthlessly exposed. They rightly accuse the ANC of putting party before state, but they are putting party before province and independence supporters know it.
What the DA really wants is for talk of independence to go away. They want it to merge into their calls for greater autonomy. But it won’t, not least because the DA cannot actually deliver any meaningful degree of greater autonomy.
Instead, calls for independence are getting ever closer to critical mass, and more and more of the DA’s political opponents are choosing to enter the fray.
The Freedom Front plus have already joined the Cape Party in campaigning outright for independence. The Cape Coloured Congress is stoking the flames of coloured nationalism, highlighting the devastating effects of affirmative action, provincial migration and housing policy on the coloured population of the Western Cape. Behind the scenes other political parties are privately making overtures to the independence movement, and there is even talk of a single-issue referendum party being formed.
Providing they go ahead as planned, the first round in the battle for independence will be fought in this year’s municipal elections.
If the DA can convince Western Cape voters that its plan is more viable than independence, then it will probably start to believe that it can weather the independence storm.
But on the other hand, if the independence movement can draw sufficient support away from the DA to leave it staring down the barrel of minority provincial government in 2024, then I strongly suspect we will see a significant shift in DA policy towards meaningful public engagement on this issue and ultimately a referendum on Cape independence.