Geopolitics Strengthen Calls for Cape Independence

PRESS ARTICLE: How international politics are highlighting ideological differences between the Western Cape and the rest of South Africa

Geopolitics strengthens calls for Cape Independence

International politics has great significance for those pursuing Cape Independence. New countries come into existence through the process of ‘international recognition’ and as any expert on the subject will tell you, international law is an inherently political affair. The interests of the people seeking independence very often take a back seat to those of the ‘recognising countries’.

The Russia-Ukraine conflict has had a polarising effect on international politics.

On 12 October 2022, resolution ES-11/4 was adopted by the United Nations. It declared that the referendums held in Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhshia and their subsequent annexation by Russia to be invalid and illegal, and it called for Russia to immediately, completely, and unconditionally withdraw from Ukraine as it was violating its territorial and sovereign integrity.

The resolution was passed when 143 countries voted in favour of it, 5 voted against it, and 35 abstained.

South Africa divided over Ukraine                                                            

Within South Africa, there was a clear divide in opinion. South Africa was one of the 35 abstentions. Officially it declared a position of neutrality on the issue, but its subsequent conduct left little doubt that its sympathies lay with Russia.

President Ramaphosa publicly insinuated that NATO rather than Russia had instigated the conflict. South Africa allowed a Russian superyacht which was under sanctions to dock in Cape Town. It conducted military naval exercises with the Russian and Chinese Navies on the anniversary of Russia’s invasion. State owned ACSA proposed changes in its operational procedures to ensure that Russian planes could evade sanctions. An embargoed Russian ship was allowed to dock at a South African military base, and South Africa is desperately seeking a manner in which to not execute an ICC arrest warrant should President Putin come to South Africa for the scheduled BRICS summit later this year.

In contrast, the Western Cape Government and the City of Cape Town have been anything but neutral. Premier Alan Winde banned Russian diplomats from government functions and illegally entered into direct talks with Ukrainian diplomats, and he promised to arrest Russian President Vladimir Putin should he set foot in the Western Cape. Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis publicly condemned sanctioned Russian ships being allowed to dock in Cape Town and he lit up Cape Town’s town hall in the colours of the Ukrainian flag.

The stark difference in these reactions is highly significant. South Africa looks east, views Russia and China as its primary allies, and is often openly antagonistic towards the West. The Western Cape looks west, views Europe and the US who are its largest trading partners as allies, and is openly critical of Russia.

Don’t force our hand on Cape Independence

Whilst this has great geopolitical significance with western influence waning in Southern Africa and where Cape Town controls the strategically important Cape sea-route, it also has considerable domestic impact.

UNESCO identified ‘Ideological affinity’ as one of the criteria which allows a group of people (in this case the Western Cape people) to assert their right to self-determination.

In the maelstrom of South African politics, it is hard to explain ‘ideological affinity’ without opponents choosing to view it through the paradigm of race. Geopolitically, however, it becomes much easier to conceptualise.

It was fascinating to observe anti-apartheid activist ‘Koos Kombuis’, and opponent of Cape Independence, articulating his grave reservations in News24 over South Africa’s handling of the Ukraine crisis, the circumstances under which he would support secession, and the factors which would necessitate such a change of heart.

“I don’t want to live in a country where people like Putin are welcome”. “Capexit will only be truly necessary when it becomes clear that the rest of South Africa has irreversibly collapsed into a failed state”. He concludes by saying, ‘No, I’m not a supporter of Capexit. But I’m warning you, don’t force our hand, Mr. Ramaphosa”.

We’re just different

This reminded me of the furore around the Cape Independence Advocacy Group’s (CIAG) ‘We’re just different’ campaign last year, which earned the organisation the ire of many, and necessitated a qualified apology.

In the heart of the storm, and as the spokesperson for the CIAG, I sought advice from South Africa’s longest serving parliamentarian, Dr Corné Mulder. “Just delete it (the tweet at the centre of the controversy) and when the drama has passed, as it surely will, you can say the same thing again in a slightly different way”.

Here we are one year later, and opponents of Cape Independence are now saying it for us.

Koos Kombuis continued, “It is no longer acceptable for the ANC to decide on this (BRICS membership) on behalf of all of us. Imagine this scenario: there is a nationwide referendum on BRICS, and the Western Cape decides they don’t want to be part of BRICS. Or perhaps the Western Cape holds its own referendum”.

That sounds an awful lot like, what if ‘We’re just different’?

Western Cape self-determination

‘All people have a right to self-determination’ – the law is crystal clear. Self-determination means that we cannot become helpless passengers trapped on a ship under someone else's control. It can be exercised in the form of devolution, federal autonomy, or independence.

The Western Cape Provincial Parliament (WCPP) is also now formally considering whether ‘We’re just different’.

The DA have announced a ‘Western Cape Provincial Powers Bill’, whilst the Freedom Front Plus have announced the ‘Western Cape Peoples Bill’. Collectively these two bills claim the right to self-determination for the Western Cape people recognising that they hold fundamentally different ideological views to the rest of South Africa. The bills force the Western Cape Government to identify what additional powers the province requires to best serve its people, and to then use its best endeavours to obtain them.

All that then remains is for the DA-led Western Cape Government to ask the Western Cape people what they want in a referendum. As the DA have previously promised, it must include a question on Cape Independence. After all, they may very well decide ‘we’re just different’ too.

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