Is the ‘debate’ on Cape Independence really nonsensical?
In his recent article where he reflected positively on the initial impression Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis has made, News24 Assistant Editor Pieter du Toit dismissed the ‘debate’ on Cape Independence as ‘non-sensical’. Hill-Lewis earned praise from Du Toit for having firmly rejected the idea.
It was an interesting turn of phrase and it certainly wasn’t the first time Du Toit has dismissed Cape Independence out of hand.
During an election podcast in November, Du Toit asked News24 election analyst Dawie Scholtz about ‘one of the more fun debates before the election …. was secession for Cape Town (sic)’. Scholtz responded by saying ‘I will give a slightly contentious answer on this, which is that I do think that there is a significant chunk of the DA vote that loves that idea’.
If we employ Ghandi’s milestones for political change, Du Toit has clearly moved past ignoring and onto laughing, but it is also indicative of a far more widespread ignorance. Somewhat ironically, the centre-left and the alt-right are both guilty of failing to grasp the broader picture on Western Cape secession.
Cape Independence is a means to an end
Anyone who views Cape Independence through a lens of political absolutism, whether that is the inviolability of the current constitutional order, or that the Western Cape Government can somehow be rendered redundant and secession delivered on a whim, has badly misjudged the situation.
Hill-Lewis is a key figure in the fight for Cape Independence even though he may not support the formal version of it.
Secession of the Western Cape is a means to an end. The province is governed (at a national level) by a party the majority of Western Cape voters have never voted for, one they cannot remove democratically, and one which governs them in a manner which is entirely inconsistent with their democratic wishes.
Western Cape performs abysmally
Whilst the Western Cape outperforms the rest of South Africa by almost every objective measure, in global terms its performance is abysmal. The Western Cape is crime ridden, suffers chronically high unemployment, poor educational outcomes, widespread poverty, and gross inequality. People die significantly younger than they should, and the province has failed to address the legacies of our past.
This isn’t going to change anytime soon, and despite the current euphoria, a post 2024 coalition government is more likely to make things worse than better. A point which privately almost all political leaders engaged in the post 2021 local government coalitions will despairingly admit.
Solution lies in taking power from Pretoria
People want solutions, and in the Western Cape, other than amongst ANC and EFF voters, there is almost unanimous agreement that the solution involves taking power away from Pretoria and vesting it in Cape Town. The only real debate is how.
Autonomists, federalists, and secessionists are not sworn enemies, they are political bedfellows. The main source of contention is what is actually deliverable. Here, Hill-Lewis is a relative radical. He is intent on pushing the envelope, at times taking rather than asking. This is music to secessionists’ ears.
Many other autonomists preach the ‘gospel of the failing state’. There is no need to formally push for secession, they argue, as the South African state implodes, we will just step in. De-facto independence. Dr Frans Cronje’s enclave state.
Secession in the political mainstream
Like most radical ideas, Cape Independence started as a fringe concept and was largely ignored. Its recent relative prominence, as Dawie Scholtz attested to, is a function of it merging into the political mainstream.
On 23 June a literal debate on Western Cape secession has been scheduled and the list of participants is interesting. It includes three current provincial party leaders and one ex-provincial premier. Tertius Simmers (DA), Ebrahim Rasool (ANC), Dr Corné Mulder (VF Plus), and Vytjie Mentor (Action SA). I will be representing the CIAG.
The argument for Cape Independence will be simple. The Western Cape people are ideologically, linguistically, and demographically distinct from the people of the rest of South Africa. This is already recognised in the Western Cape Constitution which adopts only three of South Africa’s eleven official languages, and ideologically three decades of election results speak for themselves.
The province has its own parliament, its own government, and its own electoral roll. Its people have certain rights and these are not solely contained in the South African constitution which itself recognises other external sources of authority.
Governed according to their freely chosen policy
None address the plight of the Western Cape people better than Chapter 20 of the ‘African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ which South Africa ratified in 1996. It states:
‘All peoples shall have the right to existence. They shall have the unquestionable and inalienable right to self- determination. They shall freely determine their political status and shall pursue their economic and social development according to the policy they have freely chosen.’
The people of the Western Cape are most certainly not ‘pursuing their economic and social development according to the policy they have freely chosen’. To the contrary, they are having the views of the rest of South Africa forced onto them against their will.
Let the people decide for themselves
Both the logic and the morality are inescapable – let the Western Cape people decide for themselves whether they are better off remaining as a part of South Africa, and even if they do wish to remain, let them decide how they want to be governed.
Unsurprisingly here, devolutionists are in unanimous agreement. The referendum legislation must be fixed, the people must be consulted, and a list of powers that must be devolved should be drawn up.
For some that list includes sovereignty, for others it does not. Either way the Western Cape will become a better place.