Dining alone – a secession fantasy for the Western Cape – Collard

When Colin Collard, a past editor of Good Taste Magazine, appealingly fantasises about Cape secession from national government and growing, unhindered by stultifying national policies, I couldn’t help thinking of former Western Cape Premier Hernus Kriel. The province’s chain-smoking, gruff-voiced first premier ruled the provincial roost from 1994 to 1998 and had a similar vision, except that for him it was more about bolstering and shoring up the last redoubt of his fast-dying National Party. I remember the furore his flying of the succession kite caused when I wrote it up for the Cape Times as a provincial parliamentary reporter. Even the Codesa pivot and NP dove, Roelf Meyer, toyed with the idea publicly. Kriel, who died at 73, would have also made merry with the ANC mess we’re now in. The difference between the NP then and the DA now is that the latter is growing nationally and on an upward growth curve. But secession – nah. Like a shining caviar, seductive and tempting, it’s a tasty thought but not enough to fill the national stomach. – Chris Bateman

By Colin Collard*

Finally, it happened.

How did it come about? Well, a tipping point was reached. You know, where you keep piling wet sand on top of a sand castle until it gets too top heavy and everything comes crashing down. That’s a tipping point. And that’s what happened in South Africa. People reached the point where they felt they had put up with just too much.

Too much of what? Oh, so many things. Corruption. Patronage. State capture. Badly run government departments. Dysfunctional municipalities. Wasteful and fruitless expenditure. Stringent labour laws. Cadres running state-owned companies into the ground. The mining industry driven up against the wall. Etc., etc. Worst of all, the misdeeds and mismanagement always going unpunished, no one ever being held accountable for anything.

And then Zuma carried out his Putin-Medvedev Manoeuvre, his ex-wife becoming president with him being made deputy president. With him continuing to call the shots, of course. For many that was the tipping point.

The Western Cape held a referendum. In or Out? people were asked. The vote was overwhelmingly Out.

But could the Cape sustain itself? Of course it could. It has always been one of the richer provinces, contributing more to the national purse than what it ever got back in services. But something much more important happened. The new government did all the things economists have long been saying South African should do. It scrapped regressive and stifling labour laws. It abolished BEE for the sham it always was: institutionalised cadre self-enrichment. It awarded government contracts only to those who tendered the lowest prices. It reduced taxes. Schooling and skills training became priorities. Teachers who didn’t do their jobs properly, for example, were sacked. Employers were allowed to choose employees on the basis of merit. The same for sports teams. (Where in the world has a system not based on merit succeeded, huh?) The authorities also didn’t restrict foreigners from buying farms in the Cape; there were no silly controls that made overseas investors worry about what would be the next constraint … or the next … or the next.

The result was the Cape’s economy boomed. New factories opened up, creating new job opportunities. Foreigners, too, invested in the country. Being more industrious, Cape manufacturers also sold more goods, which, in turn, created more jobs.

A province, which had been the best run in South Africa, became an even better run country.

The upshot was that everyone from the rest of South Africa wanted to come to the Cape. People, no matter who they are and what their colour, are always attracted to where the opportunities are, to where schools, services and infrastructure are better than what they have at home, and where leaders and politicians do not appear to be hell-bent on enriching themselves or subverting the constitution.

Oh, yes, I nearly forgot. The Cape had its own currency, the Karoo. Initially, one Karoo was worth one Rand but very soon the Karoo jumped to R2,20. The cost of a Big Mac in Johannesburg was 30 Rand, and in Cape Town 30 Karoos, but then the price dropped to only 13,60 Karoos in Cape Town. Why? What brought about the change?

Confidence, that’s what it was. Just confidence. When a country is run on sound principles, where laws are just and equitable, and where government officials are, in the main, honest and hard working, then people start believing in their government and the future of their country and they take their money out of their bank accounts and put it into developing new businesses and new enterprises. This is what creates jobs. And it’s this confidence that spills over to foreigners, who line up to invest in the country, which results in even more work opportunities.

Read also: The fruits of competitive politics – where the W Cape goes, others will follow

People ask why did Latin America never become like North America? Why are Peruvians or Bolivians, for example, not as wealthy as North Americans? Do North Americans work harder than South Americans? The whole of the New World—North, Central and South—was colonised by Europeans, with roughly the same amount of mineral, metal and agricultural wealth spread throughout the continents. Is it because Latin Americans didn’t speak English? No, it’s not that, and it’s not because Latin Americans were lazier either. It’s simply this: the United States has a constitution—something most of the leaders and people of South America appear not to have cared two hoots about. Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Chile, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador, Panama, Honduras, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Grenada—all of them, for greater or lesser periods, dictatorships. South of the border, leaders could plunder their treasuries and do as they pleased. In the north they didn’t, couldn’t.

Constitutional Court of South Africa

A constitution is not just an instrument for spelling out people’s rights or for holding politicians to account; it’s a document that enshrines the rule of law and ensures the playing field is level for everyone—always.

A prosperous country is not about who owns what, or who has more than whom. Or who’s to blame for what. It’s about creating the right conditions for citizens to have confidence in their country and its future. It’s lots of little things, like those above, added together.

Okay, so it didn’t happen, the Western Cape becoming independent, that is. But why can’t South Africa follow that example? Why can’t the whole country adopt a handful of tried and tested—simple—principles and become prosperous? It’s not rocket science. It’s simply making decisions that invite and encourage investment. It’s creating the type of environment where enterprise and initiative can flourish.

What South Africa needs, of course, is a strong and brave enough ANC leader to do an FW de Klerk and say, “Up to now, we’ve done it all wrong. We need radical transformation, yes, but not of the economy, of government. The problem, you see, is not white people—it’s us.”

  • Colin Collard is a businessman and past editor of Good Taste magazine. 
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