Secessionist sentiment in South Africa’s Western Cape is growing, after what the movement’s activists see as an encouraging showing in May’s provincial elections.
Cape Party, who advocate for the Western Cape’s independence, received more than 9,000 votes in May for a share of 0.45%, a marked improvement since 2009’s results, when they received 2,500 votes for a share of 0.13%.
The group cite disillusionment with ANC-rule, ethnic inequality and an imbalance in taxation and funding as its main drivers.
Cape Party Leader Jack Miller said: “With a four fold increase in support over the last two years the Cape Party is emerging as a significant force to be considered in the future.
“The Cape independence movement has taken on an energy of its own and we are simply offering the political vehicle that embodies this vision. Historically this vision exists in the hearts and minds of the people of the Cape and it is only a matter of time until it manifests itself in reality.”
Western Cape is the only South African province not governed by the ANC, with South Africa’s ruling party picking up just 29% of the vote in May’s elections.
The province is one of South Africa’s most diverse, with 49% of the population claiming “coloured” heritage, and 17% white. Afrikaans is the first language of around 50% of Western Cape’s population.
After being ousted from the Western Cape by the Democratic Alliance in the 2009 elections, the ANC wrote an article in the Cape Times titled “How we, the ANC, blew it in the Western Cape”, which tied the defeat to the province’s ethnic diversity.
The ANC article read: “The nation-building project is marooned in the Western Cape and the level of polarisation has reached an anti-African (black) and anti-ANC bias.
The central message of the DA, couched as “Stop Zuma”, masked secondary messages about African people invading from Eastern Cape and monopolising access to resources such as houses and jobs.
The key message is that uncivilised Africans want to wrest the last European out-post from white liberal dominance.
These divisions are so severe that were it to be put to a referendum right now, the majority of citizens would support a Unilateral Declaration of Independence – The Republic of the Western Cape.”
The racial aspect of Cape secessionist sentiment is acknowledged by independence activists.
Mr Miller said: “Another driving factor is certainly the fear of a fascist and racist state like we saw in Zimbabwe.
We believe that we could have a truly non-racial rainbow nation, right here in a peaceful and prosperous independent Cape.
This was the hope and aspiration of many but what we are seeing now with the ANC and EFF is blatant racism in its most militant and violent form.
The situation is getting very dangerous.”
Comparisons to Zimbabwe have been common among white South Africans since the end of apartheid, particularly when discussions over land ownership are hinted at.
In February 2018, the South African parliament voted to begin amending the property clause in the country’s constitution to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation. More than 70% of South African land is currently in white ownership.
Many in the Cape, which has South Africa’s largest white minority, have seen the discussions of expropriation as a threat to their safety, and this has driven voters away from the ruling ANC.
In the May general election the Economic Freedom Fighters became South Africa’s third largest party, with more than 10% of the vote, running largely on a land-expropriation platform.
This has fuelled paranoia amongst the white community, as the EFF’s leader Julius Malema has previously made some on the nose remarks, such as when he stated at a 2018 political rally “go after a white man, we are cutting the throat of whiteness.”
Aside from land-expropriation, Cape Party have suggested that affirmative action and black African-favoured housing allocation policies, designed to correct historical racial imbalances with the nation, are racist policies put forward by the ANC.
In short, as in all of South African politics, race is a significant player when it comes to the politics of the Western Cape, the secessionist movement, and wider South Africa’s attitude towards the diverse province.
Beyond race, independence activists are also aggrieved by South African economic policy.
Under the Division of Revenue Act, Western Cape pays around 200bn rand in taxes per year to the central government, and receives around 50bn back in local and provincial allocation.
Such policies are common in provincial and federal systems, such as in Canada, and typically lead to an imbalance in taxation and income for a country’s better performing provinces. Independence activists in Alberta campaign on similar grounds.
So with these racial and economic tensions pushing voters away from the ANC, why were the Cape Party unable to pick up more than 1% of the vote?
Jack Miller cites his party’s ‘miniscule budget’ as a big stumbling block when it comes to campaigning against ‘state-funded mainstream parties’.
Moreover, with mistrust of the ANC high in the province, voters feel safer in turning to the mainstream alternative, the Democratic Alliance.
The Democratic Alliance have been in power in Western Cape since 2009, and campaign on an inclusive anti-corruption platform.
Despite the DA not endorsing Cape independence, a poll commissioned by the Cape Party and conducted by Pretoria based VirtuCall found that a majority of DA supporters questioned favoured an independence referendum on Cape independence.
The poll had 692 respondents, 52% of whom identified as DA supporters. 66% of these favoured a referendum.
While the Cape Party remain very much a fringe movement, with less than 1% of the provincial vote, the ideas it promotes are ostensibly more widespread.
2021’s local government elections should provide a clearer indication of where the Cape’s voters stand on independence.
With greater license for voters to stray from the mainstream parties, smaller organisations such as the EFF, Good, and the Cape Party will be hoping to capitalise.