Why the promises of Cape Independence cannot be delivered: Nice thought, hopeless idea – Dr Brian Benfield

Advocates of Western Cape independence face a stark reality – the promise of secession is legally unattainable and fraught with consequences. Despite constitutional provisions for provincial self-determination, secession remains ambiguous and risks military intervention by the ANC. Economic implications, with over 80% of South Africa’s resources beyond the province, further underscore the impracticality. A DA majority is vital to prevent ANC dominance, and the proposed Devolution Act offers a legal and peaceful alternative, ensuring control over key functions while preserving unity. Secession, a risky endeavour, jeopardises the Western Cape and the nation’s future.

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Cape Independence: Nice thought, Hopeless idea

By Dr Brian Benfield*

Advocates of Western Cape independence are promising something that regrettably cannot be delivered. Here is why:

  1. No matter what legal opinions may be obtained, there is simply no unequivocal legislation clearly empowering the Premier of any province to call a referendum.
  2. The Constitution does provide for Provincial self-determination, but it does not make secession a clear possibility. On the contrary, Section 41(1)(a) of the Constitution directs that “All spheres of government and all organs of state within each sphere must preserve the peace, national unity and the indivisibility of the Republic.”
  3. Any attempt to secede from South Africa will likely result in the ANC government intervening militarily or otherwise in the Western Cape. This will simply hand power over this province to the ANC along with every other province.
  4. Moreover, secession has the potential to make the people of the Western Cape dramatically poorer because well over 80% of the South African economy and natural resources are located outside the province.
  5. A DA majority is the only way to keep the ANC/EFF out of the Western Cape. Risking support for a break away from South Africa will cost the DA many black, coloured and Indian votes both in the Western Cape and nationally. This should be obvious. If the DA falls below 50%, the Western Cape will quickly be destroyed like every other SA province by an insatiably avaricious ANC/EFF/PA coalition.

Separatists  say that the Western Cape must break away from the rest of the country because they assume that the ANC will govern forever. This is demonstrably untrue. Almost every poll show that the 2024 election is likely to be a tipping point for South Africa where the ANC is defeated nationally. Already in the 2021 local government election the ANC lost its majority, falling well below the 50% mark.

Naturally, the concept of secession could not proceed when the Multi-Party Charter (MPC) for South Africa was formed. Indeed, several polls shows that the MPC is on the verge of defeating the ANC in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, and nationally. 

Securing the DA in the Western Cape not only keeps the ANC/EFF out of the one province that actually works, but also provides a lifeline for DA coalition governments to rescue the rest of our country.

Instead of taking the Western Cape out of South Africa, the Western Cape must be injected into the rest of it. Isolationism is in any event unlikely to prove a long term success. We must secure the Western Cape’s future whilst simultaneously delivering good governance to the rest of the country.

The DA’s proposed Devolution Act seems legally feasible in a practical and peaceful manner. It will provide almost every meaningful thing the independence advocates seek, including devolving control over policing, passenger rail, electricity, health, education and other key functions to the Province, while preserving peace, law and order and a growing economy. 

It is clear that the ANC/EFF will be the only winners in a dispute between secessionists and the DA. The losers will be the people of the Western Cape first, the rest of South Africa second!

As we say in Afrikaans: ’n Mooi gedagte, maar ‘n kak idee!

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*Author: Dr Brian Benfield, retired professor, Department of Economics, University of the Witwatersrand.

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