Is Cape Independence Racist?
Nothing closes down the space for honest debate quicker than the injudicious use of the ‘R’ word, so, with a subject as controversial as Cape Independence, an endless flurry of racial accusations were always going to be inevitable. But is Cape Independence racist?
Certain subjects are utterly taboo in the South African political discourse, and Cape Independence touches upon many of them.
Perhaps this article will inspire others to contribute intelligently to this debate, but my experience thus far is that the reason Cape independence is deemed by many to be racist is because, in essence, it is perceived to be ‘anti-black’.
For an organisation such as the Cape Independence Advocacy Group (CIAG) who I represent, this is most unfortunate. We certainly do not perceive ourselves as being ‘anti-black’. To the contrary, we have gone out of our way to demonstrate the racially inclusive nature of our goals, and to try and explain that an independent Cape offers the best possible opportunity for ordinary Western Cape citizens, regardless of their race, to thrive and prosper. In our poll last year, 16% of black Western Cape voters said they supported Cape Independence.
Our experience is that it is not that Cape Independence is racist, but rather that the topic exposes racism, and many of those screaming racism most loudly are actually those most at fault.
At the CIAG, democracy is a simple affair. 7 million people live in the Western Cape of whom 3.2 million are registered voters. We are advocating for independence based on the wishes of the democratic majority, or, in other words, 50% (of voters) + 1 more.
South Africa belongs to all who live in it
There is no reference to race at all, and we reflect entirely the letter and original spirit of the South African constitution. We all intimately know the following words:
We, the people of South Africa, Recognise the injustices of our past; Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land; Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.
But how many of us actually mean them?
There is no racial hierarchy in the constitution. No-one is more South African than anyone else. There is no racial division between rightful owner and guest, or more colloquially, no indigenous people and settlers, Africans or Europeans, just regular run-of-the-mill South Africans.
Having sat through the State Capture Commission, a Zuma presidency, the collapse of State-Owned Enterprises, the breakdown of municipal services in much of the country, credit downgrades, a collapsing Rand, record unemployment, mass skills emigration and unskilled illegal immigration, rampant crime, and a third world education system, the collective peoples of the Western Cape may decide that the majority of them never voted for this circus. If they also decide that their future would look infinitely better if they could instead elect their own government, and campaign to be able to do so, where exactly does racism fit into the equation?
I am sure we have all heard the saying, when you point a finger at someone, there are three more pointing back at you.
In South Africa, non-racialism is deemed to be anti-black
Why do people presume that Cape Independence is racist? Is it perhaps because they have never truly invested in the spirit of the South African constitution? Can it be that although Cape Independence is in no way ‘anti-black’, neither is it expressly 'pro-black', but instead genuinely non-racial in character? Non-racialism is a toxic concept in South Africa. If you doubt this, then observe the vitriol directed at the Democratic Alliance (DA) when they formally adopted it as a policy. In South Africa, non-racialism is deemed to be ‘anti-black’.
As someone regularly accused of racism on account of my support for Cape Independence, this article has been on my mind for a while. I was finally prompted to write it by a late-night twitter debate with two black South Africans with whom I would presume to have a lot in common. Both were anti-ANC, and both had seen through the empty populist rhetoric of the EFF. Both understood the necessity for sound policy choices and good governance. They would both instinctively understand why I would want to reject the ANC and the disaster they preside over.
When it came to Cape independence though, neither were willing to concede an inch. They were both adamant, regardless of the democratic will of the Western Cape people, Western Cape citizens simply had no right to make decisions about their own future. Neither of them came from the Western Cape nor had ever lived there. Nevertheless, both were emphatic, they would never allow an independent Western Cape. One even threatened violence.
So what was the nature of their claim that they believed they had more rights over the future of the Western Cape than the people who actually live there? What in the constitution, which, in section 235 expressly makes provision for self-determination, led them to believe that their opinions bore more weight than the democratically expressed wishes of Western Cape voters in any future referendum?
Western Cape and South Africa claimed as 'black land'
Eventually, having initially camouflaged their true beliefs in a series of euphemisms, one of the two cracked; ironically when I dared to suggest that his opposition to Cape Independence was in fact rooted in his own racism.
How does a white man evidently nostalgic about apartheid and aiming for ‘independence’ on black land claim racism?
And there it was, a belief that I have encountered numerous times before. A belief that is silently held by a large portion of the South African population. Perhaps the greatest of all the South African political taboos? The belief that actually South Africa does not belong equally to all who live in it, it belongs to black South Africans, and other racial groups are there at their grace and favour.
Regardless of the constitutional absurdity of this notion, historians and statisticians could confirm that there is no possible factual basis to describe the Western Cape as ‘black land’. The largest ethnic group in the Western Cape is the so-called ‘coloured’ people. If the constitution assigned territorial sovereignty on the basis of historical occupation, the case for Cape Independence would be strengthened, not weakened. Mercifully, it does not. Instead, it champions non-racialism; united in our diversity, and the most ethnically diverse province in South Africa is the Western Cape.
Just like South Africa, the Western Cape belongs to all who live in it.
Cape Independence about creating a better life for ALL
Which brings us full circle. Calls for Cape Independence are premised upon the democratic will of the collective Western Cape people, regardless of their race, religion or culture, which would need to be overtly expressed in a democratic referendum. The purpose of Cape independence is to escape the disastrous and self-destructive conduct of the South African government, and the South African electorate who insist upon re-electing it despite its abominable conduct and abysmal performance. By doing so, an independent Western Cape would then be free to create a better life for all of its racially diverse citizens.
So, is Cape Independence racist? We are adamant that for us it is not. If you find yourself tempted to dismiss it as such rather than to engage with what we argue to be perfectly logical and morally justifiable aims, please consider why you feel that way and where the majority of your own fingers are pointing.
This article first appeared in the Daily Friend https://dailyfriend.co.za/2021/05/15/is-cape-independence-racist/