It’s our party – we’ll secede if we want to

This article was published in the Mail & Guardian on 10 July 2011. This is the original, unedited version of the article. To read the version that appeared in the Mail & Guardian, click here. The images displayed here were taken by Samantha Steele.

Jack Miller, founder and leader of the Cape Party
Jack Miller, founder and leader of the Cape Party.

A small party in Cape Town, called the Cape Party, has a rather… unusual dream.

They want to break the Western Cape away from Mother South Africa and turn it into its very own country. Yes, that’s right, the Western Cape (as well as a section of the Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and Free State – “an area roughly the size of France” according to their manifesto) as a country all on its own, with a president and laws and new passports and a flag and everything.

“There are many people that share our vision,” says Jack Miller, Cape Party president and ex-model. The definition of ‘many people’ must have changed because sure, 3381 people is a lot if we’re looking at a yoga class, but when we’re looking at book sales or movie tickets or, as in this case, provincial elections, it’s not a lot at all. That’s a 0.14% win in the City of Cape Town ward in the recent polls. No Parliamentary seat for these ambitious youngsters.

Seceding from South Africa seems a bit drastic – Bafana Bafana didn’t do that badly during the World Cup. But the Cape Party’s (il)logic is pretty simple:

  • The Cape does better than the rest of South Africa economically: “An independent Cape is a much more viable economic entity than South Africa,” states the Party’s manifesto. They say that for every R100 sent to the state coffers, only R58 makes it back to the Cape.
  • The Cape is unique in terms of language, culture, vegetation and so on and thus is working as an “independent entity” anyway (quote taken from the Cape Party’s manifesto).
  • Small states work better than big states.
  • Direct democracy should be implemented as the current system of proportional representation is “outdated”.
  • South Africa is not looking out for its citizens, as the high crime rate indicates. The Cape Party also dislike BEE and think the current prison system is coddling prisoners and encouraging gangsterism.

“Have [the Cape Party] got a hope?” asks University of Pretoria Political Sciences lecturer Roland Henwood, “Not likely.” The road to breaking off a chunk of South Africa and turning it into its own little empire is like the road to Morder: not easy.

That’s because seceding is illegal according to the Constitution. Says Henwood, “The Constitution acknowledges the geographic unity of South Africa.”

Basically there are two main barriers to secession. The first is receiving a majority vote, and the second is changing the Constitution. “As things stand now I cannot see them managing the Constitutional hurdles,” says Henwood. Without the first the Cape Party cannot achieve the second.

Aside from that, the provinces affected by the change must approve. This effectively gives the Northern and Eastern Capes the veto. The government also has to accept this notion, which is unlikely: “The Western Cape is a very important province, I don’t see the government agreeing,” says Henwood.

Miller thinks the Constitution is on his side. Chapter 14 states “the right of self-determination of any community sharing a common cultural and language heritage, within a territorial entity in the Republic”. Miller clarifies, “We need to get the majority in the Western Cape and hold a referendum – people can choose to be self-governing or remain part of South Africa.” Except that a referendum has as much effect on independence as moonshine has on warts. Henwood explains that a referendum is not binding and rather acts like a thermometer for public opinion.

DA federal council chairman sums it up when he says, “Quite frankly, and with all due respect, the Cape Party is not a party we take seriously.” In a weird way, the Cape Party agrees with them with a quote taken from Gandhi found on their manifesto: “First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.” It’s fair to say we’re all at Stage Two now.

And as for the Cape Party’s heated anger at the Western Cape being used by South Africa as a “donor state”, Henwood says that “there are good reasons for adopting a system that is not proportional to your income.” He continues, “If you don’t have that, how will you prevent inequality?”

In the end though, the biggest problem of all will be mobilising the people of the Western Cape. Capetonians protesting and stuff? Please. We can’t even muster up the energy to use our car’s indicator lights.


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