CapeXit: pipe dream or possible?

PHAKAMISA MAYABA / The intensifying race towards May 29 has seen a flurry of acronyms and/or hashtags like JZ, MK and #Abahambe popping up on my search engine. But for some reason, CapeXit – not too long ago a portmanteau that saw promotional flyers being slipped through car windows at intersections, petitions circulating, and left the twitterati at loggerheads – has gone MIA. I approached a friend wanting to know why.

Being a hard-core capitalist, he is not given to lofty ideology or taking sides, least on an indefinite basis. It’s the big deals for him, and the only side that counts is the one under which his bottom line is firmly in the green. Just the sort of man who will keep it blunt and unsentimental.

He also happens to be, uhm, white. This is not meant as an indictment, but something that needs to be noted if the persistent (de)merits of the discussion are to be taken into account. The unyielding rationale among CapeXit advocates is straightforward: crime is up, joblessness is up, rates are up, standards of living are pitiful, clean governance is non-existent, and citizens have simply had it. Therefore, they insist, the manna will come raining down as soon as the Western Cape under its DA government is allowed to go it alone.

These proponents are quick to point out that in the 2021/2 municipal audits, the Western Cape was a stellar performer, housing 21 of the 38 municipalities (out of a total of 257) that were given a clean audit. It boasts an unemployment figure of 20%, the lowest in the country. Aesthetically, Cape Town is said to be holding out against the slide into seed affecting its counterparts elsewhere, so best save it –the argument goes – as the flagship of functionality lest the ruin that faces much of the country should seep into the goeie ou Kaap.

Marketed as a non-racial endeavour inspired by people from diverse racial groups who simply want the lights back on and the police to keep them safe, the secession project is passed off as apolitical, and more of a lobby for a more autonomous province. In an article on Politicsweb, the executive director of the Centre for Development and Enterprise, Ann Bernstein, writes: ‘SA’s deepest and most fundamental crisis is the abject failure of the economy to create jobs.’

Ann Bernstein, director of the Centre for Development and Enterprise. Image: Trialogue.

For this, she blames ‘the governing party’s policy failures, the collapse of critical state-owned companies, and wider governance failure. Combined, these factors have destroyed confidence and remain the most important obstacles to reviving investment and growth.’

While unemployment in the Western Cape is still high compared to global standards, it is faring much better than the rest of the country, including the economic powerhouse of Gauteng. ‘Since 2008, the growth in the working age population, at an average annual rate of just more than 2%, has been about the same in Western Cape and Gauteng. Yet over that period employment in the Western Cape has grown at about 1.9% a year. In Gauteng the figure is a fifth of that — a mere 0.4% a year.

‘Overall, the Western Cape has created almost 700,000 jobs since 2008, more than double the 300,000 created in Gauteng, despite the Western Cape population being only half that of Gauteng. Since 2015 the Western Cape has created nearly 400,000 jobs, while employment in Gauteng has fallen by 55,000.’

The Referendum Party’s Phil Craig. Image: X.

Similar motivations have spawned the Referendum Party, a single-issue organisation now on the ballot to push for a referendum towards an independent Western Cape. These have seen figures like the Free Market Foundation’s Martin van Staden penning at least one in-depth legal essay on the matter, to both applause and (surprisingly) scepticism from The Daily Friend’s readership. It all really sounds cut and dried; get the Western Cape premier, Alan Winde, to call for a referendum, and cross fingers that the majority will vote ‘yes.’

But from the get-go it seems that the ambitious, if not fanciful, undertaking is  due to hit some potholes. Although the aspiration towards progress and development cuts across racial lines, in and of itself the Exit is perceived as a white idea with white interests in mind that will invariably be steered by what some perceive to be a white DA. Somewhere in here are a few 1652 jibes thrown in. You know Jan van Riebeeck, colonialism 2.0, and nostalgia about ‘the good ol’ days’ and all that. Rightly or wrongly, Cape Town sometimes finds itself accused of being a racist city, really two cities in one: one white and sprawled affluently around Table Mountain, and the other black, impoverished, and virtually unseen on the Cape Flats.

In the course of his election campaign, Patriotic Alliance leader Gayton McKenzie has often referred to ‘the eight kilometre radius’, denoting the glamorous (read white) side of the city that gleams on tourism brochures. Outside of that area, he speaks of ganglands and a people neglected by the police, the DA, as well the governing ANC.

But race is just the tip of the iceberg. Class seems to be an equally powerful motivator for the social media aversion. With a solid black middle class – especially those in the governing party – owning premium properties in the city, word is that such people would likely sell out on their revolutionary duties to enjoy their sometimes-ill-gotten gains in what some are already calling an Orania waiting to happen.

But the one hurdle that may trip up the entire idea is the law. At least one writer has already put a red pen through Van Staden’s piece, which finds, amongst other things, that the DA shouldn’t ‘meekly [plead] with the central government to voluntarily assign responsibilities to the Western Cape provincial government’ when ‘the Constitution empowers premiers to call provincial referenda’. Not so, says senior legal researcher Dan Mafora on his blog.

He believes ‘the Democratic Alliance is right to seek an amendment of national legislation before attempting to call for a provincial referendum on Cape independence, however ill-fated’. My takeaway from his post is that, as things stand, ‘Premier Winde would still not be able call for a provincial referendum without the approval of the president’.

If that is indeed how the cookie crumbles, Ramaphosa’s government would sooner give up the blue light convoys, enter into a coalition with the Freedom Front Plus, or agree to secret ballots in parliament than to grant such a referendum. One cannot see him even considering to accord such powers to the one province that has eluded his party for years, and has been a source of much frustration because it has often upstaged the ANC in terms of performance. This is the same province that had one official coming up with the unfortunate term: coloured cluster.

Perhaps it is for the Cape’s sake that the DA’s John Steenhuisen, a man whose political career has been built on heaping criticism on the ANC, is rumoured to be in secret talks with his arch-rivals. It is also the terrain on which McKenzie hopes to stage one of the biggest election upsets of recent times by wooing the coloured vote, the most important down there.

As for my friend, he gave my question some thought, but figured, ag, we’re in South Africa — maybe what we should be doing is pulling together, not straining apart. Maybe I was wrong about him just being a money man.

FEATURED IMAGE: The Cape Independence flag. Image: Facebook.

This is an edited version of an article that first appeared on Phakamisa Mayaba’s website, eParkeni. Used with permission.

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