RIGHT TO REPLY: Hill-Lewis not Elected in a Political Vacuum

RIGHT TO REPLY: CIAG responds to Tom Eaton (TimesLive) on Cape Independence. Hill-Lewis is indeed doing an excellent job, but he wasn't elected in a political vacuum.

The CIAG is responding to the following article: https://www.timeslive.co.za/sunday-times-daily/opinion-and-analysis/2022-04-28-tom-eaton-this-is-why-cape-independence-is-a-secession-from-reality/ It is located behind a paywall so we have reproduced the content at the bottom of this article to provide context.

Our Response

Tom Eaton’s shallow and patronising article on Cape Independence demands a response. Not only is the analysis offered woefully naïve, but resorting to an ad hominem attack targeting a young man’s accent crosses the lines of decency and certainly should not be taking up column inches in any respectable media title.

Irony abounds as Eaton sets out to establish the Cape Independence Advocacy Group (CIAG) as an organisation of ranting fantasists, factually unaware, and unable to discern context.

Let me start with the young man.

Robert King is quite an extraordinary individual. Aged 18, he is currently studying economics and politics at university. He is the youngest member of the executive committee of the CIAG and has earned the deep respect of his older colleagues who include academics, advocates, company directors, and successful businesspeople.

He has a remarkable grasp of international politics, and he runs the CIAG Instagram platform. In addition to his work for the CIAG, he is an activist for the Freedom Front Plus, he established a platform called Capecord to promote independence, and he helped form the ‘CapeXit Youth League’. Whilst visiting the UK last year he organised and hand delivered a letter on Cape Independence addressed to the British Prime Minister.

That he is well-spoken is not a crime, it is a compliment to his parents, and South Africa would be a better place if there were many more young men like him. Shame on you Tom Eaton.

Facts most certainly matter

Eaton then goes on to suggest that ‘facts don’t matter’. It is not clear if he is referring to the CIAG or King, but in either case he is far off the mark. The CIAG is over two years old, has been widely published in the media, and has made thousands of public comments. Cape Independence is an evocative topic, and any factual inaccuracies in statements made by the organisation would be pounced upon with glee.

That the organisation has never been exposed for factual inaccuracies, despite having repeatedly gone toe to toe with newspaper editors, senior political leaders, economists, jurists, and academics is testament to just how rigorously the CIAG has stuck to the facts.

The source of Eaton’s accusation is the Western Cape’s nuanced election of the ANC in 1999 and 2004. In a CIAG video promoting the ‘Free the Cape’ march, King stated that the Western Cape had never elected the ANC and had made it clear that it didn’t want to be governed by them. Eaton muses as to whether this is a deliberate lie or just ignorance.

The answer of course is that it is neither. At worst it is a minor scripting error which fails to give sufficient context for the claim being made. The majority of Western Cape voters have never voted ANC and the ANC has never secured a majority in the province. In 1999 and 2004 the ANC were able to form minority governments in coalition with other parties.

This certainly does not justify the claim that facts don’t matter to either the CIAG or King. If King failed to provide sufficient context in his initial claim, then Eaton duplicates the error by also failing to provide sufficient context in his rebuttal.

Hill-Lewis not elected in a political vacuum

The treatment of King and the allegations of factual inaccuracy are however sideshows to the most glaring errors in Eaton’s article. Eaton uses them to set the scene for his edification of Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis, who, according to Eaton, and in contrast with the CIAG, is getting on with the practical business of delivering a “smaller but much more real and valuable sort of independence”.

The CIAG has no issue with the praise of Hill-Lewis, we share Eaton’s sentiments. Hill-Lewis is exactly the sort of mayor Cape Town and every other municipality needs.

The question is, does Eaton really believe that Hill-Lewis was elected in a political vacuum?

It seems not to have even crossed Eaton’s mind that the DA campaign which saw Hill-Lewis elected on a ticket of radical devolution, or the DA’s increased interest in Federalism, or the DA’s decision to address the enabling legislation necessary for them to call a provincial referendum, have been influenced by the emergence of the Cape Independence movement.

Secessionists have significantly widened the Overton Window. Polling has shown that a majority of DA supporters in the Western Cape now support independence and two-thirds support a referendum on the matter. If Eaton is unaware of this, the DA most certainly are not. Neither is South Africa. Autonomy and federalism have suddenly become compromise positions, something which was unthinkable until very recently.

Even the ANC have been affected. Last year, ANC Western Cape leader Cameron Dugmore engaged in a public debate with Premier Alan Winde at the Cape Town Press Club on the devolution of power in the Western Cape. Dugmore was opposed. Earlier this year, when debating Cape Independence on Twitter, Dugmore ruled out secession but stated that devolution of some powers should be discussed as a compromise.

Political advocacy and a referendum

It also appears that Eaton has no understanding of what the CIAG is and does. As an ‘advocacy group’ its role is to assert pressure and to influence opinion. Political engagement, mostly away from the public spotlight, is a major part of the CIAG’s activities. This includes regular contact with the DA and other political parties.

One such example is the formation of a ‘Working Group on Western Cape Autonomy’ which is currently being established and will include several political parties, academics, jurists, and civic organisations.

Another was the CIAG’s announcement before the Local Government Elections that the DA had agreed to allow the Western Cape people to democratically decide for themselves on Cape Independence.

Eaton’s article was inspired by the ‘Free the Cape’ march which he patronisingly described as ‘festive’. That it certainly was, but it was much more than just that. People of all races and political persuasions came together in substantial numbers to petition Premier Winde to make good on the promise of a referendum. Eaton is under no obligation to support or even respect calls for secession, but as a journalist he should be au fait with the political realities.

Self-determination for the Western Cape is now the dominant political view in the province, with autonomy, federalism, and secession all being fruits of the same tree. Like it or not, the Cape Independence movement is a part of that mix.

To suggest otherwise would be ignorant in the extreme.

Text of the original article

TOM EATON | This is why Cape independence is a secession from reality

As the fantasists rant, the City of Cape Town tries to secure a much smaller but much more valuable sort of autonomy

As the Cape Independence Advocacy Group got ready to march back to the early 1800s this week, I found myself watching a strange video on its Twitter page.

A very young man with an English accent was standing on a beach holding a large fuzzy microphone, apparently to make it clear he had important things to say and hadn’t just popped over from Oxford for a boys’ weekend away with Chalky and Bunting and the rest of the lads.

“At the heart of all the Western Cape’s problems,” he said, “is one criminal organisation: the African National Congress.”

I don’t know how Wednesday’s march went, but the pictures on Twitter made it look quite festive, a bit like the swivel-eyed love-child of Brexit and Africa Burn.

Now, readers of this column will know I haven’t sent Christmas cards to Luthuli House for many years now, but even I had to blanch at the dishonesty and ahistorical chutzpah of his claim.

According to the CIAG’s own website, the five largest problems facing the province are poverty, unemployment, racialism, lawlessness and ANC rule. Fair enough. But you don’t have to be a historian to know that all of those crises have their roots fixed firmly in SA’s colonial and apartheid past. I love slagging off the ANC as much as the next guy, but blaming the party for the legacies of the last 300 years is like blaming gangrene around a wound for blasting the hole in the first place.

The young bloke, however, was plunging onwards.

“The people of the Western Cape have never elected them,” he insisted, “and in every election we make it more clear that we don’t want them.”

Again, I don’t know who this person is, so I can’t speculate on whether he was lying deliberately or just revealing his ignorance. Perhaps it’s best to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he is too young to remember that the Western Cape voted for the ANC in both 1999 and 2004. And while it is true that the ANC’s share of the Western Cape vote dropped from 2014 to 2019, it actually increased between 2009 and 2014.

Then again, facts don’t really matter to people who have bought into a dream.

I don’t know how Wednesday’s march went, but the pictures on Twitter made it look quite festive, a bit like the swivel-eyed love-child of Brexit and Afrika Burn; a safe space for fantasists to let all their isolationist, nativist fantasies hang out in public, safely contained by the system they’re trying to leave.

On Thursday, however, I was reminded of just how wild these fantasies are as the City of Cape Town got on with trying to secure a much smaller but much more real and valuable sort of independence.

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It’s early days yet, but the relative silence around mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis is speaking volumes. In the five months he has been in office there have been no scenes of chair-throwing or jug-smashing, no orgies of outrage, no Twitter storms, no pronouncements of his inherent evil by opponents of the DA (or by closet DA voters). All I’ve heard are quietly approving testimonials by apolitical people who know him, and cautious praise from people who’ve worked with him.

On Thursday, he was back in the news again, this time quietly announcing that the National Treasury has apparently ended years of stonewalling and has agreed to allow Cape Town to conduct a feasibility study into the city running its own rail network.

Of course, this could go nowhere. Enoch Godongwana allowing Hill-Lewis to crunch the numbers is one thing; devolving the authority of the state to the only non-ANC province is another.

It is, however, a clear win for Hill-Lewis and for the beleaguered, self-sabotaging DA, and a lesson to secessionists everywhere in how you actually get things done in the real world: carefully, slowly, with massive amounts of consultation and, most importantly of all, with the cautious approval of the government of the country in which you live and whose constitution you protect and serve.

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