South Africa is taking on water, and nobody is bailing. It’s time to choose: get in a life raft, or go down with the ship. A new Cape independence group aims to bring visibility, credibility, and funding to the secessionist movement.
The Cape Independence Advocacy Group was formed in May this year as a political lobby group. It hopes to build on the pioneering work of several secessionist movements, and bring the idea of a breakaway of the Western Cape from South Africa into the mainstream.
It doesn’t seek to compete with the existing organisations, like the Cape Party, the United Liberty Alliance, and CapeXit, and doesn’t agree with them on all matters, but hopes to foster greater publicity, better cooperation and a broader strategic focus.
Its aims are to bring visibility to the case for independence for the Western Cape and influence political parties to take the issue seriously. Its primary lobbying target is the Democratic Alliance (DA), since it has reliably won majorities in both the Western Cape province and its capital city, Cape Town, for more than a decade, and in a 2019 survey, two thirds of its voters expressed support for Cape independence.
In a recent editorial in these pages, one of the group’s founders, Phil Craig, asks a simple question: ‘Why would it be in the best interests of the people of the Cape to remain in a relationship with South Africa?’
Well, let’s see. It imports electricity from the rest of South Africa. Sometimes. When there is electricity to import. It gets tourists from the rest of South Africa. Sometimes. When tourism is legal. It gets bulk water infrastructure from the rest of South Africa. No, wait, it didn’t, so Cape Town almost ran dry. It gets healthcare… no, that’s a provincial function, which is why the Western Cape has dealt with the Covid-19 pandemic without its hospitals being overrun.
The province gets… nothing, really, from South Africa that couldn’t be obtained just as easily across a national border.
South Africa is a colonial construct
The Union of South Africa in 1910 was a colonial construct, imposed upon its people by a British Act of Parliament. Its constituent parts were won for the British Empire by conquest or annexation. There was nothing natural in combining the four colonies that preceded the Union, just as there was no natural reason to include what is now Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi, all of which at one time were part of British South Africa.
By virtue of racist minority rule, first as a self-governing dominion of the British Empire, and later, as a sovereign Republic under Afrikaner nationalist rule, the country held together geographically. Yet after a honeymoon period for the ‘Rainbow Nation’ which is now only a distant memory, its various peoples have never been further apart than they are today.
Political parties actively foment nationalist fervour, tribalism, and racial animosity, and the fires are fanned by left-wingers who dominate the media and humanities faculties. Meanwhile, half of the Western Cape’s population weren’t white enough under Apartheid, and aren’t black enough now.
The idea of South Africa as a unitary state exists in the Constitution, but one look at the languages clause in the same document should disabuse anyone of the notion that it is really one nation.
That South Africa is a country of great diversity, however, is not sufficient reason to believe that it would be better off as two or more co-existing but separate states. Non-racialism is a laudable (and liberal) ideal.
Nelson Mandela’s dream of a Rainbow Nation might have come to fruition if the ANC had ruled the country wisely. It has not. And that is sufficient reason to believe secession will benefit the Western Cape.
Rotten to the core
It is common cause that the ruling party and the governments it runs at national, provincial, and municipal level are rotten to the core. News24 editor Adriaan Basson quotes an unnamed senior government official: ‘All the tenders are corrupt. Each one of them. Everybody knows this.’
Indeed, everyone does. There is also no hope that corruption will ever be rooted out. We get endless promises, but even the high-profile Ramaphorians have become disillusioned with the president.
On Saturday, the ANC’s highest decision-making body determined that it was unable to hold its own members accountable for corruption, and would not countenance an investigation by an outsider, even if that outsider was a former president, elder statesman, and loyal ANC member.
Instead of prosecuting corrupt officials, top ANC leaders – themselves implicated in corruption and nepotism scandals of prodigious scale – simply redeploy or reinstate them. The worst penalty one might expect as a corrupt government official is an extended period of paid leave, before all seems to be forgiven.
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s recent speeches against corruption reminds me of an old proverb: an empty cart rattles loudly.
Sometimes, a crisis can bring a nation together. Faced with a common threat, they might choose to forget old divisions and come together to fight it. The Covid-19 pandemic, however, has not done so.
Covid-19 exposed the ANC’s failures
Public trust, already at an all-time low thanks to economic mismanagement and the capture of virtually all the machinery of state by corrupt crony networks, was eroded even further by a series of harsh and irrational lockdown decisions.
Government arbitrarily divided the economy into ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential’ categories, neglecting the fact that every business is essential to its owners and employees, and that a modern economy is so interwoven that shutting down any part of it has ruinous knock-on effects on the rest of the economy.
The patent absurdity of some of the rules made a mockery of the government’s lockdown response. Government restricted outdoor activities when almost all Covid-19 transmission occurs indoors and remaining indoors in small, cramped shacks is likely to exacerbate contagion. It banned small pleasures like tobacco even though the preponderance of scientific evidence points to the fact that smokers are less likely to fall ill from Covid-19. It legalised religious gatherings and casinos, but continued to prohibit domestic tourism, even though the latter could easily be conducted safely, while the former are hotspots for outbreaks. It caved to the demands of the taxi industry, which is likely the most effective spreader of the virus.
Instead of treating citizens like adults, educating them on infection control procedures, and strongly recommending preventive measures, the ANC government responded the only way it knows how: by dictatorial force.
The minutes of its decisions were classified, and experts on its own advisory panel openly expressed frustration that government was acting against the scientific advice they presented. The entire army was deployed against the very people it is supposed to defend, with deadly consequences. While criminals were being let out of jails, hundreds of thousands of people were arrested and criminally charged for the most petty of lockdown-related offences.
The prohibitions have turned untold numbers of previously law-abiding citizens into criminals. People started brewing or distilling their own liquor. People who used to work in hospitality or entertainment became cigarette dealers overnight. Restaurants flouted the prohibition on the sale of alcohol, some by deploying subterfuge, and others quite openly. Old ladies who couldn’t survive on their pensions alone joined the criminal underworld by secretly renting out their home-sharing properties. In large swathes of South Africa, lockdown regulations were ignored wholesale.
Government entirely squandered any trust and respect it might have enjoyed at the beginning of the pandemic, when the president was (mistakenly, in my view) lionised for his brave and decisive action.
Doubling down on failed policies
When the catastrophic consequences of lockdown – millions of people unemployed, thousands of businesses bankrupt, millions of people malnourished or starving – became evident, the ANC government promised interventions to relieve the stress it had placed on the economy.
All of those interventions, however, simply doubled down on the very economic policies that had already brought the country to its knees prior to the pandemic. It promised more social engineering to enforce an idealised demographic representivity in private companies. It promised more state control over businesses. It promised more wealth redistribution. It promised more state-owned enterprises. It promised more debt.
It issued more tenders, designed to enrich favoured middlemen. Family members of government officials suddenly became specialist providers of medical supplies, while a video doing the rounds on social media shows personal protective equipment having been dumped in a river in Gauteng.
Government has been unable to use a field hospital built for free by the private sector in the Eastern Cape, because it could not staff it, and the province has since started to export patients to neighbouring provinces for medical attention. Whatever you do, don’t call them refugees.
To find nurses, government turned to NGOs, who in turn approached private nursing agencies, who hired nurses at half the usual pay so that everyone up the chain could ‘cover their costs’. When these nurses got sick, they went unpaid while they waited in enforced quarantine for up to ten days for their own Covid-19 tests to be processed, a delay which effectively rendered the tests meaningless in any case.
South Africa is dying
The dreadful inefficiency and ineffectiveness of government were laid bare for all to see. The government promises to climb out of the hole it dug for itself by expropriating land and taxing the rich, but the rich are either fleeing South Africa in droves, or their fortunes are inextricably tied up in the performance of South African companies. People rarely sit on piles of unused cash. If companies shut down and the economy crashes, so does the wealth of ‘rich’ people. Taxing what little remains only hastens the demise of the productive economy.
There is no hope of recovery. There is no hope of a ‘new economy’ brimming with ‘state-led growth’. South Africa is dying, and it’s not because of Covid, it’s because of the stubbornly authoritarian, socialist ideology of the ruling party.
Meanwhile, the national government and elements within the ANC have attempted to undermine the success of the Western Cape government, led by the DA. National government failed to react to the Cape Town water crisis for years, although bulk water infrastructure is a national competence, and then swooped in to ‘rescue’ the DA government from its apparent failure.
The DA has for years accused, with reason, ANC agitators of attempting to make DA-run provinces and municipalities ‘ungovernable’ during episodes of unrest involving labour disputes, service delivery, or land invasions, and even sabotage.
It harms the ANC, politically, if the Western Cape succeeds under rule by the DA, and on almost every measure, the Western Cape outperforms ANC-run provinces by a large margin.
The mood seems right
I have, in the past, and even quite recently, expressed skepticism of secessionist movements for the Western Cape or some similar geographic region. There are many reasons to doubt they will ever succeed.
Despite international rights of self-determination for individual nations, cultures or language groups, the Constitution establishes South Africa as a unitary state. The ANC will not let the Western Cape go easily. It is a net contributor to the fiscus and to GDP, which not many provinces can say.
There hangs a pall of nationalism, and even racism, over some of the groups associated with secession. The United Liberty Alliance, for example, explicitly uses the Apartheid regime’s motto, Ex Unitate Vires, and describes its constituency in pretty clear racial terms. That offends me.
However, the time may be right to consider the idea of secession more seriously. The mood certainly seems right, among many of the Western Cape’s inhabitants.
New organisations, such as the Cape Independence Advocacy Group, may bring funding, publicity and political momentum to the idea in ways that older, more narrowly-focused groups could not. Another new campaign aims to host a Convention for the Independence of the Cape in 2021. It claims to have registered over 400 000 members in just over a year.
I’m coming around to the idea that Cape secession might be the only way to save South Africa’s only reasonably well-run province from the road to serfdom, from which the national ANC government will not waver.
For me, the arguments are not about racial, cultural or language identity, or historical coherence. They are purely socio-economic.
On socio-economic grounds, I cannot give a convincing answer to Craig’s question: ‘Why would it be in the best interests of the people of the Cape to remain in a relationship with South Africa?’
Since I cannot, I must agree with him: the time for secession has arrived.
The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR
This article was amended to correct membership numbers from the My Independence campaign.