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Allowing Orania to govern itself sowed secession seed, rebellion

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Esmari Potgieter, one of the residents of the small town Orania situated 150km from Kimberley at the unveiling of a two-metre koeksister monument on Saturday September 20, 2003. Statements by political parties, such as the DA, which insinuate that Cape Town would be better off if it were to govern itself, amplify the call for secession and do not augur well for unity, peace, and political stability in the country, the writer says. – Picture: Emile Hendricks / ANA

By Bheki Mngomezulu

As the political negotiations for a new dispensation took shape in 1993, the Interim Constitution was adopted. One of the main decisions taken was that post-apartheid South Africa would be a unitary state, not a federal state.

The same view was sustained in the final Constitution, which was adopted in 1996.

However, while this decision was binding, something strange was allowed to happen – all in the name of reconciliation.

Following the demise of apartheid in 1994, Carel Boshoff IV founded Orania in the Northern Cape. This place elected its transitional representative council in 1995 and vowed to run its affairs like an independent state.

For someone to qualify to live here, he or she had to meet certain requirements. Among them was that the individual had to be a white Afrikaner, be a Calvinist Christian, must not have a criminal record and must only speak Afrikaans.

Allowing this to happen was a bad decision. While it is true that such permission was granted in the name of reconciliation, the long-term consequences of this decision were never considered.

Some of the requirements outlined above were unconstitutional. For example, while it is true that Section 15 of the Constitution protects people’s right to exercise their religion, South Africa is defined as a secular state. This means that there is no state religion.

Moreover, Section 30 of the Constitution states that everyone has the right to practise any culture and to use any language of their choice.

However, the Constitution does not say that people of a particular religious or cultural group should live in a secluded place away from other South Africans. The Constitution was misconstrued.

What was worse with this decision was to allow the people of Orania to use their own flag, which is different from that of South Africa. Even the interpretation of the flag’s colours is different from how colours in the South African flag are interpreted. Furthermore, the ora was allowed to be the currency used in Orania, not the South African rand.

This untenable situation was like a time bomb that would explode at any time. Indeed, we are already seeing examples of how this practice has metamorphosed and has come back to haunt us.

The Cape Independence Party (CIP), which was formed in 2007, is emulating Orania.

The party argues that the “Cape Nation” has a right to self-government.

To advance this argument, the CIP avers that the Constitution of South Africa guarantees the right to self-determination of any community sharing a common cultural and language heritage.

Surely, this is a wrong interpretation of what those who drafted the Constitution had in mind. If all language groups were to secede South Africa would have not less than 11 “nations” or “independent states”.

Statements by political parties such as the DA, which insinuate that Cape Town would be better off if it were to govern itself, amplify the secession call made by the people of Orania. The DA’s advert showing the South African flag being burnt relates to this.

Philani Mavundla, the leader of Abantu Batho Congress (ABC), has made a similar call for the Zulu people to secede.

Recently, he averred that “the time has come for Zulus to be independent and self-sustaining and be free from the corrupt ANC government”.

A couple of things are clear from the picture painted above. First, the call for secession is based on race, ethnicity, and/or religion. Whatever the motivating factor is, it does not augur well for unity, peace, and political stability in this country.

Historically, the Bantustan or Homeland system was frowned upon and rejected because it compartmentalised the South African nation by creating artificial “independent” states. It was for this reason that the new South Africa was envisioned as a unitary state which brought together all the so-called “independent states” or Homelands.

During the negotiations, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi proposed that South Africa should be a federal state. When this view could not be accepted by the other negotiators, the compromise solution was to have six provinces. These were later expanded to the current nine provinces.

These provinces are not “independent” states. They vary in terms of land mass, population size, economy, and other areas. However, under the current set-up, these provinces complement one another.

From an economic point of view, if the proposed secessions were to continue, some provinces would survive while others would suffer. For example, coastal provinces would benefit from tariffs for shipments while landlocked provinces would incur costs.

On the education front, tertiary institutions are not evenly spread across the current provinces. If secession were to happen, many students would struggle to access higher education. This would have serious repercussions.

Furthermore, government institutions are not evenly spread across the country – some provinces have more government institutions compared to others. Should secession happen, those areas which host many government buildings would benefit, while others would have to build from scratch.

The ripple effect of the point above is that it might trigger unnecessary fights. All South Africans have contributed to the building of these structures. After secession, some might demand that they should be compensated. This would not end well.

Following from the discussion above, secession is not something that we can encourage. Those who make this call must draw lessons from the past, consider the likely impact of such action, and revisit their position.

Prof Bheki Mngomezulu is Director of the Centre for the Advancement of Non-Racialism and Democracy (CANRAD) at the Nelson Mandela University