Challenging political norms: Referendum Party vs DA in the Western Cape

In the political landscape of South Africa, the Referendum Party (RP) is challenging norms by directing its criticism not at the ANC, but at the DA, the ruling party in the Western Cape. While the DA has excelled in governance metrics, the RP contends that true progress requires Cape Independence. Despite legal avenues, the DA’s broken promises and reluctance to call a referendum have fuelled the RP’s emergence. With a commitment to securing a viable future for the Western Cape, the RP stands as a pivotal force demanding political change.

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Why does the Referendum Party keep on talking about the DA?

By Robert King*

The Referendum Party (RP) stands as an anomaly within the South African political ecosystem. Amidst the common practice of political rivals directing their attacks at the ANC and occasionally engaging in intra-party disputes, the RP takes a fundamentally different approach. Instead of targeting the ANC, the RP’s core point of criticism rests on the DA. This is not due to a belief that the DA are poor administrators – in fact, quite the contrary. Rather, the RP’s spotlight shines on the DA because they currently act as the gatekeepers to the critical referendum on Cape Independence, which both the Western Cape people demands and requires. 

In the Western Cape, the DA are the establishment 

In the past three provincial elections, the DA have consistently secured a majority of votes in the Western Cape. It’s almost a sure bet that they will maintain their position as the largest party in the upcoming 2024 elections. Unlike the broader South African landscape, where the ANC typically reigns as the established governing party, in the Western Cape, it is the DA that holds this position. Consequently, in order to exert influence on the Western Cape government, there arises a necessity to challenge the provincial dominance of the DA. 

By most metrics, the DA have done a good job at running the Western Cape. Unemployment rates here stand as the lowest across the country. The province has by far the cleanest audits. Public services under provincial management operate with remarkable efficiency. As a result, it is hardly surprising that both investment and migrants gravitate towards the Western Cape. It stands as one of the few bastions of exemplary and accountable governance in Southern Africa. 

Although we surpass the standards set within South Africa, our performance pales in comparison to our global counterparts. Presently, in the Western Cape, unemployment rates stand at three times the G20 average. We grapple with a murder rate that exceeds that of any other nation worldwide. The plight of millions of our citizens reflects destitution and enduring poverty. 

This is not the fault of the DA. A DA government in Cape Town, cannot improve the lives of the people of the Western Cape, when an ANC government in Pretoria is making all the policy decisions. 

Read more: The DA’s crucial decision as support for Cape Independence gains momentum – Robert King

Devolution is not working 

The DA attempts to reassure Western Cape voters by promising them that they will fight for devolution, yet in these battles, the DA often finds themselves on the losing side. Premier Alan Winde, in his 2019 election manifesto, pledged that the DA in the Western Cape would advocate for devolving control over rail and policing to the province. Fast forward four years: he has failed. Clearly, the Western Cape must adopt a fresh strategy to safeguard its interests. Continuing with the same approach and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.

An increasing majority of Western Cape residents and supporters of the DA envision their future as an independent state. Surveys indicate that 68% of Western Cape voters and a substantial 79% of DA supporters favor holding a referendum on Cape Independence. 

Premier Winde has the power to call a referendum 

Section 127 of the South African Constitution and Section 37(f) of the Western Cape Constitution, allow for the Western Cape Premier to call provincial referendums. However, due to the outdated and unconstitutional nature of the existing Referendum Act, the mechanism to call for a referendum is exclusively vested in the President’s hands. Consequently, this denies the Premier the exercise of this rightful authority. Despite this, a series of legal avenues are available which would alleviate this issue. 

One clear avenue to enable the Premier’s exercise of this right would involve introducing legislative amendments in the National Assembly to align South Africa’s referendum law with the constitution. In June 2021, responding to pressure from the Cape Independence Advocacy Group (CIAG), the DA made a public commitment to present a bill aimed at empowering Premiers to conduct provincial referendums as per the Constitutional mandate. However, the bill has been mired in ineptitude and internal conflict within the DA, as certain elements have attempted to obstruct its progress. This internal discord has led to a significant delay, stretching the bill’s tabling over a span of 2 years. 

Legal opinions do exist that suggest a legislative change is not necessary for the Premier to call a referendum. Presently, no specific law bars the Premier from requesting the President to call a referendum, leveraging their constitutional rights. Although this approach might lack the legal authority to directly facilitate a referendum, it remains an avenue worth exploring for the provincial government. After all, what would they stand to lose by pursuing this option? 

Another potential avenue, backed by legal opinions provided to both the CIAG and the Premier, proposes that the existing legislation could be utilized to initiate a referendum. The initial referendum legislation, crafted in 1983, predates the establishment of South Africa’s nine provinces and the title of Premier. However, the current South African constitution unequivocally grants the Premier the authority to call a referendum. Consequently, to align the legislation with the constitution, the Premier should simply “read-in” his right within the existing legal framework. 

Read more: Shocking census 2022 results: Has Cape Town overtaken Joburg as SA’s biggest city?

Broken promises 

In 2021, amidst mounting pressure from the Cape Independence movement, DA leader John Steenhuisen entered into a private agreement with the CIAG, committing to organise a referendum on Cape Independence upon the completion of legislative changes. However, following the election outcomes, the DA spent the subsequent two years attempting to backtrack on this commitment. This came to a head in October 2023 when Premier Winde, in response to a letter endorsed by 30,000 Western Cape residents, declared his decision not to call a referendum. The final act of betrayal had been completed.

The DA position is now clear: they will not call a referendum on Cape Independence. Instead, they are fully investing in the Multi-Party Charter approach, banking on the prospect that voters in the remaining eight provinces might change their minds about non-racialism and capitalism. This is despite the strategy clearly being doomed. Polls repeatedly indicate that the Multi-Party Charter will fall short in 2024, struggling to garner even 40% of the vote, let alone the necessary 50% plus 1. 

The Referendum Party 

The last 2 years of political negotiations and debate, clearly show that if you want Cape Independence, you are going to have to vote for it. Without significant, hard political pressure on the DA, a referendum on Cape Independence is impossible. 

The CIAG’s Referendum Party has been formed to deliver that pressure. We will support a DA provincial government to secure competent administrators in the present, while using our influence to deliver a referendum on Cape Independence, in order to secure a viable future for the Western Cape. 

At the Referendum Party, our resolve remains unyielding. We stand poised on the brink, with no room to retreat. For us, there exists no middle ground—only the pursuit of victory or the specter of complete defeat. We understand that with greatness comes a weighty responsibility. It is now incumbent upon the people of the Western Cape to unshackle themselves from the grip of the unelected ANC governance and shoulder the responsibility for shaping their own destiny.

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*Robert King is a politics, philosophy, and economics student, economy spokesperson for the Referendum Party and co-founder of the Cape Youth Front.

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