Comments on the wider Cape Independence community

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Comments on the wider Cape Independence community

When examining the merits of both the idea and method of secession of the Western Cape from South Africa we have to take into consideration the following

  • The Western Cape is different from the rest of the country and is more efficiently governed. People would like to see it retain its western way of life without discriminating against anyone
  • The ANC is highly unlikely to agree to Cape Independence. It is also highly unlikely that they will agree to an official referendum managed by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). Any other referendum will simply be regarded as an opinion poll. Even if an official referendum is held the Government is not obliged to accept the result. Its stance is likely to be supported by the international community –especially the African Union. Remember also that most western countries these days have sizable numbers of black voters sympathetic to black South Africa.
  • What do we do if the country decends into chaos and becomes a failed state. This could happen if the ANC splits violently. Should this happen the worst violence is likely to occur in the northern and eastern parts of the country. Under these circumstances it is felt that the Western Cape could extricate itself from such a bad situation by secession from South Africa. A number of eminent political analysts, RW Johnson included, believe that under such circumstances it would be possible and even desirable for the Western Cape to secede in order for us to extricate ourselves from the chaos up north.

WE now have to address the following issues

  • Who takes the lead on the road to secession
  • Legitimacy versus legality
  • International Law and secession

Who takes the lead on the road to secession

At the moment there are various organizations propagating Cape Independence and/or secession of a larger area. For most organizations the targeted area is the expanded Western Cape that includes parts of the Northern and Eastern Cape and corresponds roughly with that part of South Africa that is west of the Eiselen line. There are three reasons for this

  • This is the only province where the majority of citizens are western in their cultural orientation which in turn shows up in their approach and attitude towards socio economic and political issues.
  • The expanded Western Cape is regarded as more defensible than areas where national minorities are not in the majority.
  • There is more likely to be strong popular support for secession in areas where national minorities are in the majority.

There is at times mindless competition between different groups, each jockeying to occupy pole position in order to have monopoly over the process. In this way each hopes to be able to dictate and determine the course and outcome of events. Not enough thought has been given to planning the way ahead. This is only to be expected given the lack of resources and the failure to enlist strong support and assistance of business, civic and academic leaders. One of the results of this is that little if any consideration has been given to legitimacy—more on this below. Without legitimacy no organization can realistically claim to be playing a leading role in the campaign for secession.

Legitimacy versus Legality

If the law does not allow secession then any secession is illegal but not necessarily illegitimate. If the secession is illegal but enjoys legitimacy then in time to come it can, by one means or another, become legal—examples are the USA and Bangladesh.

On the other hand should the secession be both illegal and illegitimate then ultimately the secession fails—Rhodesia is a good example.

As can be seen the issue of legitimacy is crucial. The leadership, membership and policies of any group working for secession should ideally reflect the ethnic, cultural and social diversity of the Western Cape. Secession should not be seen as an opportunity to pursue some or other ideological agenda—this should be left to individual political parties after secession. Without legitimacy the problem of illegality cannot be overcome.

Even if the secession is legitimate there could still be problems—for example Catalonia and Kurdistan. This means that any secession will have to be defended militarily. Without legitimacy this becomes a joke. For one thing it would be impossible to gain reliable support in the international community. It may well be that the best hope is that the international community is too involved in serious problems to have the resources to devote attention to the illegality of secession.

Once legitimate secession has taken place then a degree of de-facto recognition can occur but the newly independent state will have to be militarily defended. A successful military defence will have to be ongoing and will be dependent upon continued legitimacy. One must remember that civil society in the Western Cape is far more sophisticated and more active than in the rest of South Africa. Many of these groups are not ANC aligned. If they are excluded from decision making and organizing during the lead up to, during and after the secession process then the process will have no legitimacy. It is even likely that they will violently resist secession. We cannot expect the support of everyone but we need to maximize the support and diversity of support in order to achieve legitimacy. This cannot be achieved in an authoritarian manner by simply expecting people to fall into line and trust the leaders because the leaders know best. This approach died in the aftermath of the 1992 referendum. People have not forgotten the referendum promises that were not kept. They have also not forgotten how the right wing turned out to be damp sqibs. People now need to know that they are not been led into a dangerous situation that can only end in disaster for our people.

Legitimacy now becomes of paramount importance. Whoever wins the legitimacy battle takes the lead in the secession process but not necessarily the exclusive lead.

On the question of legitimacy it is now necessary to tramp on some toes. All minorities must be involved in decision making and planning. For example, there should be substantial representation of both Afrikaans and English speakers. People of colour should be well represented. Tokenism will not work We cannot have a group of white people calling the shots and expecting  others to fall in line. It should be remembered that coloured people are the largest population group in the Western Cape. They are not going to allow white people to just use them. Many of them have socio economic concern that are substantially different to those of the middle classes of all races. If these needs and concerns are not addressed we can expect well organised opposition. As I have before, civil society in the Western Cape is far more sophisticated and organised than in other parts of the country. If anyone thinks they can rule with an iron rod they are fatally mistaken.

In short, the real battle is going to take place on the Cape Flats and similar areas across the province. Whoever wins this battle takes the lead.

Additionally, care must be exercised to ensure that the ideal of Cape Independence is not used as a tool by shady persons to gain state capture. Some people have learnt much from the Guptas. Indeed there are those who could teach the Guptas a thing or two.



International  Law  and  Secession

International law does not provide us with a rulebook for successful secession. Generally speaking, secession is frowned upon in the international community for a variety of reasons. Since the Second World War secession has been tolerated only when

  • The secession is an act of decolonization
  • If people are oppressed and especially if the oppression is accompanied by military occupation
  • Secession is the outcome of negotiations between the mother state and the secessionist entity.

However, in the world of real-politic if the international community is presented with a fait accompli then a secession would probably be recognised over time provided that the secessionist entity is not guilty of gross human rights violations.

In the case of the Western Cape it can be said

  • We are not colonized (at least not in the sense used in international law)
  • We are not grossly oppressed although national minorities are subject to discriminatory laws
  • There is little if any chance of negotiating an independent Western Cape
  • The most favourable opportunity for secession is going to be when the country falls into chaos. When this opportunity arises legitimacy is going to be of paramount importance.
  • When secession takes place attention will have to be given to the position of blacks in the Western Cape. Gross violations of their rights would be used as an excuse for the suppression of secession. There is not much indication that this issue has been adequately addressed.
  • Ideally before secession can take place a lot of preparatory work has to be done to popularize the idea as well as laying the groundwork for successful implementation. At this stage not enough is been done to convince people that an independent Western Cape can be successful. This must now receive urgent attention. It is not enough to simply have a good idea. It is here that the inputs of academics, business leaders and other community leaders become important.

Self Determination  and  Independence

There is quite a bit of controversy as to what extent self-determination and independence are the same. In trying to resolve this we can say that people are given self-determination and territories are given independence. Also a distinction can be made between internal and external self determination.

Internal self-determination occurs when , for example, a national minority is given the power to look after its own affairs without disrupting the territorial integrity of the state in which they live. Thus the Afrikaner community would be entitled to their own schools, universities etc within the Republic of South Africa. This has not happened and it is puzzling why the Afrikaner community has not been more aggressive in pushing for implementation of section 235 of the constitution.

External self determination involves disrupting the territorial integrity of the state by the secession. In the process a new state is formed.

Section 235 of the constitution provides for self-determination but it is widely felt that it does not provide for an independent state. If the possibility of an independent state was intended then this would surely have been explicitly provided for in the constitution. Any territorial manifestation of self-determination would have to take place within the republic without disrupting the republic’s territorial integrity. At the moment the only two areas of the country where this happens is Orania and the Ingonyoma Trust area. As it is the Ingonyoma Trust is been debated as a possible target for expropriation without compensation. Orania is tolerated for now as politically irrelevant but for how long?

Obviously we are looking towards external self-determination. However, as said earlier this requires legitimacy and diversity in leadership and support in the development of policies and strategies. We are concerned that this does not exist at the moment.

The Way Forward

There is no formula for secession that guarantees success. Rather we must pursue a pragmatic process that is responsible, fair and inclusive. Even this approach is not likely to be successful but if it is done properly it would at least enable us to correctly claim that we have pursued all legal and peaceful options.

Thanks to the ANC having largely ignored the wider Cape independence community there is no clear indication which approaches are not going to work. The closest they come to comment on the issue is to accuse the DA and other political rivals of wanting to make the Cape independent. However, don’t be fooled. If the support for Cape independence becomes seriously strong then we will hear from the ANC in no uncertain manner. In the meantime, this situation has led to a variety of approaches represented by a range of appropriate organizations.

These approaches can be grouped more or less as follows, with varying degrees of overlap

  • Political parties who believe that the way to win independence is to win provincial and municipal elections.
  • Pressure groups who do not take part in elections but prefer to campaign for a referendum on the question on Cape independence
  • Pressure groups who advocate doing nothing other than preparing for what is considered to be the inevitable failure of the state.
  • Advocacy groups that simply propagate the idea of Cape independence. This includes some well financed groups as well as a number of social media groups.

In addition, there are a number of small groups and individuals on the loony fringe who could be dangerous but politically irrelevant.

What is undeniable is that idea of Cape independence is gaining ground. As little as five to eight years ago a proponent of Cape independence was considered to be way-out. That has now changed and people are now more willing to listen to rational arguments in favour of Cape independence but they have questions that reflect their concerns about financial viability and security.

There is some debate as to which group has the best strategy. The answer is that no group has the magic answer. Rather we should accept that each group has a role to play by providing an opportunity for different people to choose which approach they as individuals are more comfortable with. In any case it is never a good idea to put all ones eggs in one basket.

It is also true that competition between groups is a good idea provided that the competitive spirit does not damage the overall cause of Cape independence. This can happen when and if groups spend more resources fighting each other than what is devoted to the cause. It should be remembered that changing demographics could lead to the closing of the window of opportunity for Cape independence. There is no time to waste.

It is therefore common sense that the different groups, while acknowledging that each has a role to play, should work together to see what common grounds they have. However, the need to work together should not be seen as an opportunity for any one group or person to dominate and hijack the Cape independence community for possibly their own personal hidden agendas.

Nevertheless, it is useful to reflect on some of the difficulties faced by those who propose holding a referendum or taking part in elections.

Taking part in elections

The problem of promoting Cape independence by taking part in elections are that

  1. Most anti ANC voters do not want to split the vote and thereby allow the ANC to slip into power in the Western Cape and DA held municipalities. For this reason voters will continue to play safe with their voting. Needless to say the DA knows this and continues to rely on the ANC gevaar. This reinforced by changing demographics.
  2. Political parties in favour of Cape independence have the twin mutually reinforcing problems of low profile and lack of resources.
  3. A political party needs to have policies and not simply opinions on a range of issues. These policies need to be properly informed and formulated with the help of experts using accurate up-to-date data. This is where low profile and lack of resources spike the guns.


There is at the present time an attempt to make it legal for a premier to call a referendum but for now, in any province only the State President has the power to call a referendum. If he does so then such a referendum is managed by the  Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). Any other referendum is nothing more than an extensive opinion poll that carries no weight. In any case whoever calls an official referendum is not legally obliged to accept the result, although they would be stupid to ignore the result. The response to a referendum result in favour of Cape independence is likely to be “go to hell”. Any strong response is likely to be supported by the African Union (AU) and other friends of the ANC in the international community such as China, Cuba and Venezuela et al. They will be emboldened by the response of the international community to the outcomes of the referendums in Catalan and Kurdistan.

Another problem is that the Western Cape is part of the unitary state of South Africa. Any granting of independence to the Western Cape would have to be approved by the South African parliament. Since Parliament is controlled by the ANC there is no chance that an independence bill will be passed by Parliament.

Changing demographics are making it more difficult to win a referendum. All the ANC has to do is to adopt delaying tactics until the demographics are in their favour. This can be speeded up by encouraging mass migration to the Western Cape. In any case not all minorities are going to support Cape independence. There will always be those who will choose to believe that things will get better. Those who advocate the calling of a referendum should heed the lessons of the 1992 referendum.

All of the above shows that the only realistic way to successfully secede is to take it when the circumstances are in favour of such a strategy.

Every group and political party in favour of Cape independence should now examine their policies and strategies to make them more attractive to the people of the Western Cape. They also need to make sure that their decision making and leadership structures reflect the diversity of the national minorities in the Western Cape. Those that fail to do so are in danger of been irrelevant. Some of the issues that need attention  are now examined below.

Economic Viability

Many feel that an independent Cape is a good idea but doubt that it will be economically viable. In actual fact there is a lot going for the Cape economy. This topic needs a separate article but we can refer to, among others,

  • Oil and gas deposits off the southern Cape coast as well as potentially good deposits off the west coast
  • Mineral deposits in the Northern Cape if Namaqualand and adjacent regions are included
  • A very strong financial services sector
  • Fishing industry
  • Agriculture including the world-renowned winelands
  • Tourism

There is a need to acquaint pro-independence activists and others of how strong the Western Cape economy is compared to the rest of South Africa. Activists need to be empowered with accurate up-to-date scientific data in order to answer the many questions that are going to be asked. Academic and business leaders need to be recruited to the cause to help formulate responses to questions and to develop policies and strategies. These leaders need to be canvassed at a higher level of approach than others. If the approach indicates naivety on the part of the activists they will have little impact and will instead stir up strong opposition. Remember, business leaders have huge stakes and their concerns are not petty.

Also on the question of economic viability —“who wants to be part of a failed state”.


One of the main reasons for wanting an independent Cape is to escape the ANC’s discrimination against minorities. The ANC claims that policies such as affirmative action and BEE are not racist but rather correction of past injustices. Well quite frankly only fools will believe them. Shakespeare said that a rose by any other name is still a rose. Now racism unlike a rose is ugly but we can say racism by any other name is still racism.

Ideally, we must resist the urge on the part of some people to resist racism with racism. Given the emotions that the ANC have aroused over the years, this is going to be difficult for some but we have to do our best to show that we are better than the ANC South Africa. We don’t want to see a mini ANC South Africa to develop in an independent Cape. Anti-black racism would attract the ire of the world with severe consequences. However, we would be entitled to take measures to protect the cultural character of the Western Cape. This would have to involve restrictions on migration into the Western Cape.


All of the above provides quite a bit of food for thought but the time has come to widen the debate and to be more inclusive as we proceed ahead.