Secession movements unmasked: FF+ falls as MK rises – Gabriel Crouse

The 2024 election reshaped South African politics, marked by FF+’s decline due to their secessionist stance, losing half their seats. Conversely, MK, driven by Zulu nationalism, surged in KZN, advocating for provincial secession. With mounting socio-economic challenges, parties like FF+ and IFP may influence a more stable future amidst impending turmoil.

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By Gabriel Crouse*

The 2024 election produced a new balance of forces on the two main axes of secessionism. First, the rise of MK, second, the fall of the FF+.

It may be better to start with the smaller story. The FF+ lost almost half its seats in the National Assembly, going from 10 seats to 6, after the 2024 election. It dropped from about 2.4% to 1.4%. On the national ballot their vote dropped almost by half, from 414,864 to 218,850.

No single factor explains this, though standard political analysis distinguishes pull and push factors. Voters were, no doubt, pulled away from the FF+ because the DA changed for the better since the 2019 election, primarily by turning against BEE, which increased the DA’s attractiveness to most voters, including FF+ voters.

However, this pull factor is attenuated. Anyone who shifted from the DA to FF+ in 2019 to punish the DA for endorsing BEE had a reason to stay with the FF+ in 2024 insofar as they believed that doing so would keep the DA sensitive to their flank, so as to drive policy further in the FF+ direction. 

Moreover, the post 2024 period was always bound to be one of more dynamic politics, with an increased possibility of small parties playing decisive roles in tipping the balance of forces on issues specifically close to their voters’ hearts.

So, what about the FF+’s own policy outlook, which either failed to keep voters on board, or actively pushed them away?

The most obvious answer is secession. The FF+’s biggest policy change since 2019 was to endorse splitting the country into pieces. In 2020 MP Corné Mulder was talking up secession of the Western Cape; in 2021 FF+ supported CapeXit in a secession campaign claiming that the latter had over 800,000 members, and in their manifesto FF+ boosted CapeXit again.

Partly, it is possible that FF+ leaders were duped by the incredible CapeXit organization into believing that 800,000 people would vote for secession. Instead, FF+ lost 200,000 votes.

Rethink

I argued before the election that voters should punish the FF+ for supporting those who call for the end of South Africa. I also argued that the FF+ could learn from its mistake.

Like the DA in 2019, the FF+ could change its policy direction going forward, by doing an internal investigation and reflecting on the fact that a peaceful secession is impossible, and a violent one must be stopped before it starts.

Secession is a loser. If the FF+ wants to grow again it must give secession up and stick to the Constitution of this rainbow republic.

That could be good for the country. Language groups, unlike race groups, are built around something that adds value in both good times and bad. The Afrikaans language is, in its way, too much for English words. Perhaps other parties will outlearn it, but as it stands, the FF+ has a clear record of giving that language a political voice.

That is not all. FF+ leaders have argued well in Parliament on matters of broad, national concern, including the FF+’s opposition to BEE at the time when the DA was pushing an ANC-lite policy a decade ago. More recently, its MPs have argued well on matters such as the Bela Bill and the Public Procurement Bill.

The most adult thing, perhaps, in politics, is to learn from mistakes. The DA was able to do this before. The FF+ now faces that challenge.

MK in KZN

On the wet half of the country MK has given political expression, in part, to a Zulu nationalist desire to split KZN from the country. MK’s policy makeup is not, to put it mildly, well defined. But it is militantly opposed to the Constitution, and so will carry secessionist impulses within KZN as the fastest rising force in South African politics.

Early in 2023, a Social Research Foundation (SRF) poll found that almost half of KZN residents were keen on splitting the province from South Africa. KZN is also the only province capable of playing the “sharp end of the spear” role in cutting South Africa apart, with MK’s name referring to a spear.

If South Africa is going to split it will be by blood, and no province has a history so soaked in political bloodshed as KZN. Fratricide after fratricide, riot after riot, burnt highway after sacked village after wrecked mall after scorched business – with enough violence KZN could become ungovernable: a precondition for secessionists to claim sovereignty outside the rule of law.

MK’s refusal to accept the 2024 election results is a textbook move towards secessionism. All social problems this winter, and in the winters to come, will be blamed on a stolen election. Those winters get dry, and the livestock get thin, or stolen, in the rocked pitted goat hills between Newcastle, Greytown and Nkandla. The grass gets burned, and the knives get wet, as past experience has it.

The cycles of violence in KZN are more overtly political than the gangsterism of the Cape flats, and repetitions of the 2021 Zuma riots did not occur in 2022 or 2023. However, worse may come.

Combine the “more aggressive” BEE laws coming into private employment and R1.1 trillion’s worth of public procurement with incoming expropriation without compensation, the NHI, and Ramaphosa’s other signature “reforms”, and you see that South Africa’s investment position is weaker than ever. Less money equals less jobs, which means more angry youth, which generates more stock for the secessionist powder keg.

If KZN does blow up, Western Cape secessionists will draw inspiration once more. They will call for a peaceful secession there to avoid a violent one.

Consolation

MK is not, I believe, in a position to learn from its mistakes. Zulu culture already has a credible home in the IFP. Velenkosini Hlabisa, the IFP leader, strikes me as a man of honour who is committed to the rainbow republic.

The consolation on MK’s side is not that it might learn its lesson, but rather that it is falling to pieces. The party’s founder, Jabulani Khumalo, alleges that he was unlawfully removed by an email forged by the Zuma family. MK’s champion is banned from Parliament.

How will the MK do? It might go the way of Cope eventually, and if it does, it will be worth asking if it will go down for the same reason: spies known as “plants”.

Worse to come

Whatever MK does, things are going to get worse in South Africa, generally, before they get better. That is what Ramaphosa’s laws have guaranteed. A reformed FF+ and a growing IFP could play crucial roles in softening the hard landing, and accelerating a return to the kind of growth we enjoyed as a young country in the 2000s. Every party counts.

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*Gabriel Crouse is a Fellow at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR).

This article was originally published by Daily Friend and has been republished with permission.