‘We want out of SA’ – 36% in Western Cape want independence, says poll

The Cape Independence Advocacy Group is a political pressure group that is hoping to help separate the Western Cape from the rest of South Africa. According to its website, the organisation says “the ANC government is leading us into an economic and social disaster. The Western Cape has consistently rejected their agenda, but our democratic voice is rendered redundant by a system where our government is not chosen by us, but despite us.” In this intriguing excerpt from the Rational Radio webinar, BizNews founder Alec Hogg chats to co-founder Phil Craig about the viability of this breakaway. As David Shapiro says, a split would most certainly hurt South Africa economically as “we’re all integrated”. – Claire Badenhorst

We welcome in Phil Craig. You’re the co-founder of the Cape Independence Advocacy Group. Now, those of us who live up north who love coming to the Cape – even though most Cape people say to the ‘Gautengers’, just send us your money next time; don’t bother to visit at the same time – we think that you’re part of South Africa. But it appears as though a growing number of people in the Cape are not so sure anymore. Just tell us where you’re coming from, from your own perspective and why you are a co-founder of an organisation like that.

We’ve got nothing at all against South Africa. I think this is just a question of self-preservation. I think we all understand that the country is in dire straits and we need to look at where the solutions are going to come from. We’ve seen since 1994 that ideologically and politically there is a stark divide between what the Western Cape wants and what South Africa wants. That probably was relatively benign when South Africa was doing fairly well, but as South Africa now is getting worse and worse and worse, then the people of the Western Cape aren’t getting the government they’re voting for.

South Africa is dictating the terms, I guess, to the people of the Western Cape. The people of the Western Cape have never given the ANC majority in 26 years and we have a situation where the party who got 28% of the vote is dictating how the country must be run to the people who got 55% of the vote. And, you know, that’s not much fun.

But why you? Where’s your interest in all of this coming from?

So, look, I think I’m just an ordinary person who really kind of hoped that other solutions were going to come along and they didn’t come along, and then we’re in a situation where somebody’s got to step up, or a group of people have got to step up. I am a family guy.

I’ve got young children. I think like a lot of South Africans, I don’t want to be in a situation where when I’ve finished and retired, I’m sitting in South Africa and my children are spread around the world because they just didn’t have a future here, you know? And I don’t want that for me and I don’t want that for other people living in the Western Cape. In truth, I don’t want it for the people in South Africa but there’s not much we can do about that. South Africa is voting again and again and again for socialist policies. I can’t change that but in the Western Cape we can try and get the government that we vote for.

This poll that you’ve done, bringing in Gareth van Onselen’s company Victory Research – where did it all start from and who paid for it, and why do you think it was a worthwhile exercise? Before we go into the results which suggest that it certainly was a worthwhile exercise.

So, the Cape Independence movement in general has been around for a while. But I guess that, you know, it’s kind of fragmented in terms of, there’s the Cape Party, which is a political party which really hasn’t done very well at the polls. Then there’s a civic rights organisation, there are two actually, but the main one is CapeXit.

So, the movement kind of existed but there probably wasn’t a strategic organisation that really was trying to get a very fact-based approach. From our point of view, we wanted to come in and try and establish into the main narrative. It’s not something that was talked about an awful lot into the media and actually there was an awful lot of disinformation around Cape Independence and obviously, one of the great things about the poll is, that’s kind of put an awful lot of myths to bed. You know, they were beyond myths. They were taken as facts even though they weren’t facts, and I think the poll has been helpful in that.

We’re a political pressure group so we’re not looking for power ourselves. We’re not really looking for anything out of this. We want to just change the narrative and get this as an option out there. And I think it’s clear from the polling that this clearly isn’t some fringe idea that just a few idiots want. It really is a mainstream issue. In terms of who paid for it, we managed to raise some finance amongst our supporters. A number of people were very generous and helped us and that paid for the poll.

Read also: Alec Hogg: Cape independence – not so wacky?

And what did the poll tell you? Just give us the data.

36% of people in the Western Cape would like to see an independent Cape, so just over one in three. 47% – so all but one in two would like to see a referendum on independence. 53% of DA voters would like independence outright and 64% of DA voters would like to see a referendum on independence. So, I think we can fairly comfortably now say this is a politically mainstream issue.

And the DA? It’s response?

They haven’t responded formally and I’m not particularly expecting a formal response at this point in time. As an organisation we’re a political pressure group so clearly we have a number of links with the DA and we talk to them on a regular basis. I think it’s fair to say the Cape Independence certainly isn’t the DA’s Plan A.

Within the organisation there’s an awful lot of support for Cape Independence and we speak to a lot of people who actually privately support it, but publicly there’s no endorsement of this. For a number of years the DA just didn’t talk about it as a part of our activities. They have started to get asked about Cape Independence on a fairly regular basis now but they sort of tend to brush it off with something that’s kind of a bit of a fob off.

Fundamentally, people want a DA government. We’re not going to get one as part of South Africa. There’s only so many times we can keep voting for the DA and not getting it. And we always maintained that the vast majority of Independence supporters were also DA voters, and that has been brought out by this poll – 65% – two thirds of Independence supporters are DA voters. So look, at some point they’re going to have to engage, and privately they do behind the scenes. I understand it’s a difficult conversation for them to have in public and they’re trying to balance their national ambitions with their provincial obligations.

So, what happens in the provincial election that comes along next year? Let’s just say that the Freedom Front Plus, who made huge gains in the last election at the DA’s expense, take this up as one of their cornerstones of their philosophy. Is it possible then that the DA would be punished for not listening to its own supporters on the presumption that your data that you’ve got from this opinion poll is accurate?

Look, we don’t have to speculate on that. We’re already in discussions with the Freedom Front and the Freedom Front were very quick to come round to announce that they will be standing on a ticket of Cape Independence, so that’s not a speculation. So, at the 2021 elections, we know there’ll be at least three parties supporting Cape Independence. There’ll be the Cape Party itself. There’ll be the Freedom Front and then the Cape Coloured Congress, which is the new coloured party from the Cape Flats, and this will be their first election. It’ll be interesting to see for us, too, what’s going to happen. I guess that’s a bit of an unknown. Personally, not so much as an organisation.

We’re bipartisan so our executive committee all voted for different political parties at the last election and I actually am the only DA voter historically. I hope that the DA will start to at least engage in the conversation even as a neutral. But I think if the DA continues to kind of just brush this off and focus on their own political ambitions, I think there will be consequences. And as an organisation, if that’s what’s happening by the time of the 2021 elections, we will be actively promoting people to vote for other parties in terms of a protest vote, and I think there’ll be a reasonable level of support for that.

It’s interesting because a lot of people watching this are probably thinking, ‘oh no, this Phil guy is nuts. We’re never going to break up the country.’ How does one actually dispel the view that anyone who wants independence of the Western Cape is a crackpot? Where’s the economic argument for it?

Look, I think the argument is primarily political rather than economic, but that said, we have discussed this with a number of economists. First of all, the Western Cape is one of two provinces that subsidises the rest of South Africa. So, it’s only Western Cape and Gauteng that pay into the system and everybody else draws down from the system.

So, the Western Cape produces 13.9% of South Africa’s GDP. It houses 11.2% of South Africa’s population and when the government funds are allocated to the province, the Western Cape gets 10.1% of the allocation of provincial funds. So, the Western Cape is paying in 13.9% and it’s getting 10.1% back. So, first of all, just at face value, there’s a net gain by not being part of South Africa.

That’s before we start to look at economic policy and the disastrous economic policy that South Africa’s following, and clearly there would be an expectation that the Western Cape would follow more business- and investor-friendly policies and there would be a benefit from there. The Western Cape economy, as it currently stands, is equal in size to the economy of Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe combined. So, you know, there’s no question of viability.

There’s no question that we’ll be better off. And then I think those become sort of secondary issues anyway to the political considerations in terms of being able to choose your own policies and have the government that you want. And obviously, really crucially, as can be demonstrated by the current system, not just choosing your own government, but being able to hold it to account if it doesn’t perform. And I think they’re the more critical things. But I think there’s no question that the Western Cape economy would thrive.

As one economist put it to me, look, effectively it would be a giant special economic zone for South Africa. You now have this kind of freer market, less bureaucracy, investor-friendly territory next door. And whilst the economist in question lived in South Africa, they were fairly positive of Cape Independence and the argument was, when South Africa gets to the bottom of the cycle and is in deep, deep trouble – do you want a wealthy or a poor nation next door? So, it was an interesting philosophy.

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Thanks, Phil. It’s been really interesting but practically speaking, let’s just say that you are successful and that you get the DA to support you and they believe there is merit in this argument… What’s the next step and how does the Cape secede practically?

So, a lot of that then depends on how South Africa responds to the political will of the Western Cape. And obviously, you would hope that it goes one way and there’s just an agreement, but you have to look at other countries. So, effectively there are two outcomes here. There is just a respecting of the democratic wishes of the people of the Western Cape.

Scotland would be a perfect example of that where the UK government recognised the people of Scotland had independent stirrings and granted the referendum. I would love to hope that we can get to that situation. If you can’t get to that situation, then you end up in a situation where the government has to make a unilateral declaration of independence and then it becomes international politics. International law absolutely allows for a country to secede but it requires the support of other countries, so then it becomes a game of international politics and you’re looking for other countries to now recognise the political rights of the Western Cape to govern itself as opposed to South Africa’s right.

I don’t know which one of those two situations we would end up with. I would hope for the former. I suspect the latter is probably more likely, or even, we have to get a fair way down the route of the latter before the South African government buckles. But it depends, obviously. The South African government is becoming less and less functional. So, at what point does it cease to have the capacity to govern anyway?

Professor Koos Malan from the University of Pretoria who wrote a book that there’s no such thing as a supreme constitution, makes the argument that in many ways the South African government has already ceased to be the government of South Africa. It’s abdicated its responsibilities around security; it’s abdicated all its responsibilities around education and health, and some economic obligations. And citizens aren’t expected to live in chaos, therefore, if there’s an absence of government from the formal government, then another government is entitled to kind of step into its place. But that’s an argument, I guess, for the lawyers to fight rather than me.

Wow. Thank you, Phil. We know that civil wars have been fought over less. But I think that times are changing and we certainly seeing all around the world the expression of desire to be independent, and let’s see what happens in South Africa. Thanks for joining us today.

  • The full Rational Radio webinar, which includes guests David Shapiro, Irnest Kaplan and Sean Peche, can be found here.  

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