‘That which purifies us is trial, and trial is by what is contrary’ John Milton, Areopagitica (1644)

Counterpoint, an occasional feature on the Daily Friend, seeks to match the wisdom Milton expressed in his great defence of free speech, that the best ideas emerge from scrutiny and argument. Guest opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the Daily Friend or of the IRR.

Dr Corne Mulder’s recent speech at the Cape Town Press Club, where he addressed the notion of Cape independence, caused quite a stir.

Talk of Cape independence is usually taboo, mocked and frowned upon by the intelligentsia as the exclusive preserve of ignorant, racist plebs, considered radioactively contaminated for political parties, and only ever discussed in strictly controlled laboratory conditions (read echo chambers). It is certainly never openly debated with the independence movement.

True to type, the event itself did not evade the sneering pomposity of the chattering classes. 

Advocate Paul Hoffmann, despite originally hailing from Johannesburg, could not resist welcoming Dr Mulder to the ‘unfamiliar territory’ of the southern suburbs (Dr Mulder duly retorted that he grew up in Rondebosch), before referring to s235 in the Constitution as ‘that section that you are so proud of’.

Meanwhile Professor Anthony Butler from UCT announced to Dr Mulder that he suspected most people in the room didn’t think he was actually being serious and asked, ‘What are you really doing?’

A doctor in constitutional law himself, Dr Mulder responded with no small degree of dignity and restraint, pointing out on various occasions that polling had indicated that 36% of the Western Cape citizens – extrapolating to 1.1 million voters – supported the idea of Cape independence, and that 560 000 had already signed a detailed mandate with CapeXit, pledging to vote in support of independence in any referendum. He explained that he was deadly serious, and that, in fact, self-determination has been his life’s work.

I was seated next to a senior advisor to the Western Cape government. When I turned to him and said, ‘I can’t believe how out of touch with reality these people are’, his reaction made it abundantly clear that I was not alone in calculating that we were now firmly ensconced in ‘let them eat cake’ territory. Later in the week, the Democratic Alliance (DA) was given a bloody nose in the by-elections, primarily, I would assert, for a similar level of political detachment.

Squeezed on two sides

The DA, in the context of the Western Cape, is being squeezed on two sides. Working class voters, and especially coloured working class voters, are not seeing sufficient change in their living conditions to believe that the DA is doing a good job. Doing better, in relative terms, than the rest of South Africa is no longer sufficient. Their reality is poverty, crime, poor-quality housing, and a perception that black economic migrants from the Eastern Cape are being given preference over coloured Western Cape citizens. A recent interview with DA mayoral committee member JP Smith confirmed that their perception is indeed correct. His explanation – that this is a situation brought about by national ANC policy and an ideologically biased justice system – will carry no water among the economically and racially marginalised.

On the other side, middle class DA voters, who enjoy the luxury of some degree of forward planning, are painfully aware that the DA has no viable plan with which it intends to save them.  Nobody, least of all the DA themselves, believes that they are destined for national government, and suggestions that coalition government will provide a workable solution have been utterly discredited – by DA-led coalition governments, which, in the main, have been unmitigated disasters.

In the Western Cape, where the DA is in its third straight term as provincial government, people are looking for more than what the DA is currently offering. If they can’t fix the problems, then voters will inevitably start to look around for someone who can. Middle class DA voters have become the largest supporters of Cape independence, with 53% of DA voters in the province favouring the idea.

Conductors of the band

Metaphorically, the DA in the Western Cape has become the equivalent of the conductor of the band which pluckily played on while the Titanic slowly sank, stoically making conditions as pleasant as possible while the moment of crisis approaches. Hoffman, Butler and company might be inclined to enjoy a jaunty rendition of Mozart from the string quartet, but rank-and-file voters are firmly fixated on the lifeboats, with mutiny writ large in their hearts.

How does mutiny look? In its mildest form, it looks like Brackenfell. Inevitably the usual suspects fell over themselves to justify the Economic Freedom Fighters’ protest action while simultaneously demonising racist white parents, but those observing the unfolding drama on Twitter couldn’t help but notice a distinct change in tone. Never before have I observed black South Africans openly celebrating black South Africans being physically beaten by white South Africans. People are now just plain gatvol.

Those unfamiliar with the Cape might be forgiven for thinking Brackenfell is an especially rough area. It isn’t. Lightstone property reports state that the population of Brackenfell has an average monthly household income of between R40 000 and R50 000, an LSM rank of 9, and an average house price of R1.5m. Brackenfell represents middle to upper-middle class Cape citizens. Understanding this, one twitter commentator wryly mused: ‘Julius, just pop down to Manenberg for a minute, I just want to check something?’

Which brings us back full circle to Cape independence. Neither Jacob Zuma, Ace Magashule, nor the alleged 70 other corrupt members of the ANC NEC will be in jail any time soon. Unemployment is now over 50% in real terms. Property rights will have been terminally undermined within the next 12 months, racial polarisation is at epidemic proportions, and capital flight is in full flow.

Only pain

Increasingly, the people of the Western Cape don’t care what the Constitution says. They despise the government and they know the status quo offers only pain. They want solutions. Cape independence is the obvious one. Dr Mulder said, forget the Constitution, independence starts with political realities on the ground. Once present, they will then have to be accommodated.

This week, Helen Zille became the latest DA leader to avoid answering whether Cape independence was a good idea, saying instead that she just didn’t think it could be done. It is a very dangerous tactic to set yourself up as the party that ‘just can’t do it’. The electorate are highly likely to trade you in for someone else who can.

The Freedom Front Plus is the 5th largest party in South Africa. That they now publicly endorse Cape independence is significant indeed. The Inkatha Freedom Party is the 4th largest. History would suggest that they would be extremely sympathetic to the notion themselves. We know the majority of DA supporters in the Western Cape want independence.

Times are changing and fewer Western Cape voters are admiring the DA’s finest silk clothes. Mutiny is in the air.

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

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