I genuinely had no idea just how provocative the subject of culture was in South Africa.

In developing our campaign to promote the concept of an independent Western Cape, the Cape Independence Advocacy Group (CIAG) for which I work made a conscious effort to avoid a focus on either race or culture. Our vision is non-racial and inclusive of all of the people of the Western Cape. Accordingly, we were keen to show Kaapenaars of all hues that Cape Independence would improve their lives, and that it was dependent upon their collective democratic will.

The basis for Cape Independence was the undeniable ideological differences between the Western Cape and the rest of South Africa, which are evidenced in three decades of voting records. There is obviously some correlation between demographics and political ideology, but there is simply no need to dwell on it.

As the debate around Cape Independence matured, culture has taken on a greater significance. The CIAG found itself seeking out common ground with a provincial government advocating for federalism as opposed to secession. The question of whether either federalism or independence was constitutionally possible demanded an answer.

Provincial Culture Bill could deliver federalism

In conjunction with its legal team, the CIAG recently proposed that both federalism and independence could in fact be delivered with just two pieces of legislation. The first of these is a provincial culture bill which formally defines the people of the Western Cape as a ‘people’ in accordance with international law, thus by default entitling them to self-determination. Federalism is a form of internal self-determination, independence external self-determination. Provincial culture is an exclusively provincial feature and the national parliament would be powerless to change it

The second would be a self-determination bill, as required by section 235 of the Constitution, which would then define the terms by which the Western Cape exercised its rights to self-determination.

This made discussion of culture unavoidable.

The CIAG produced a first draft of the provincial culture bill, and, in keeping with its philosophy, the bill was inclusive and non-racial. The Western Cape constitution officially recognises only three of South Africa’s eleven languages, and the draft culture bill simply reflects this, pointing out that, on this basis alone, the Western Cape people are already distinct from the South African people as a whole.

In preparation for public discussions around the bill I began to introduce the topic of Western Cape culture into some of the interviews I took part in, and I raised the subject in social media posts. I was shocked and disappointed at the response.

My culture is Western, and although I was born and raised British, for many years I have lived in a rural Afrikaans community and have largely assimilated myself into Afrikaans culture. I consider my culture neither inferior nor superior to anyone else’s, it just is what it is.

State is required to protect my culture

Whether I am a white Westerner, a coloured Kaapenaar, or a black African, I am entitled to practise and celebrate my culture. This right is not only protected by the Constitution, but the Constitution and international law pose an obligation on both province and state to actively promote it.

It is also entirely logical that the provincial culture of the Western Cape will take on a character unique to the province. The Western Cape, where the largest ethnic group is coloured, where there is a sizeable Xhosa community, and where the majority of the population comprises ethnic minorities in the South African context, will have a distinctly different culture from a province such as KwaZulu-Natal, which will be influenced by Zulu and Indian culture in a way that the Western Cape would not. This should not be contentious.

Except seemingly it is, and the mere existence of a Western Cape culture is triggering opposition.

In a twitter debate I was challenged by an academic from Stellenbosch University to define ‘What is Western Cape culture?’

I responded with the following description:

‘In general terms a more Western than traditional African outlook, a colonial heritage, a culture heavily featuring Afrikaans and its dialects, most notably Kaaps, a prevalence of ethnic minorities, religious integration, and a rejection of the prevailing political ideology of SA.’

Western Cape culture is partly colonial

‘What did I just read?’ proclaimed one DA activist, ‘As for colonial heritage, I can never celebrate racism.’

These sentiments were echoed by ex-ANC Western Cape Premier Ebrahim Rassool and Vytjie Mentor of Action SA later that same week in a live debate on Cape Independence. Rassool disparagingly referred to the ‘terug-trek’ of Afrikaners to the Western Cape, quoting property statistics about who was currently buying property in the province. He took particular offence at the suggestion that Cape Independence would preserve the cultural character of the province, clearly believing that this would somehow be inappropriate. Mentor concurred.

Many South Africans have a Western culture. Colonialism, with all its undeniable flaws, is part of our country’s history. In the Western Cape the indigenous populations of the Khoi and San have almost entirely intermingled with the colonial settlers to the extent that a clear majority of the Western Cape are at least to some extent genealogically colonial.

The existence of a post-colonial people, who have jointly developed a common language (Afrikaans), and from which a unique and distinctly Cape culture and sub-cultures have emerged, cannot be racist. There must be a clear distinction between the historical acts of the colonists themselves, and the rights of their innocent descendants to go about their business and to celebrate their contemporary culture in peace.

”Decolonising the Cape’ is racist

Accordingly, the whole notion of ‘decolonising the Cape’ is racist in nature. A desire to undo the legacy of past injustices is one thing, and the Western Cape must strive to create a more equal and prosperous society that benefits all and addresses the root causes of inequality. That is however a very different proposition from seeking to artificially displace the Western Cape’s cultural heritage and to impose the more traditionally African culture that prevails elsewhere in South Africa on the Western Cape.

The Western Cape has a different character to the rest of South Africa. To use a term defining a ‘people’ in international law, it has an ‘ideological affinity’ which is distinct from that of South Africa.

It can only be beneficial to nation-building to allow the Western Cape to protect and to celebrate its more western culture, and to allow those who find they are more aligned with that culture than are the people in other parts of South Africa to migrate there. This is in no way discriminatory against other cultures. If in time the culture of the Western Cape organically acquires a more traditionally African character, that is entirely OK, but western culture, be that coloured, white, or black cannot be forced into being subordinate to the majority culture of South Africa. 

We must all have the right to practise and preserve our respective cultures in peace, and if the Western Cape needs to secede in order to be able to do so, then so be it.

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

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Phil Craig is a family man, a serial entrepreneur and a co-founder of the Cape Independence Advocacy Group. He is working towards the creation of the ‘Cape of Good Hope’, a first world country at Africa’s southern tip, bringing freedom, security and prosperity to all who live there, regardless of their race, religion and culture.