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Cape Independence: the politics of separate development

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Picture: Armand Hough / African News Agency (ANA) / January 25, 2023 – Thousands of DA, ACDP, and Cape Independence Party (CAPEXIT) supporters marched to the ANC provincial office. For the Cape Independence Party, the democratic order in South Africa is no utopia, and they are desperately seeking an old-world order nirvana, on the ether of apartheid nostalgia, the writer says.

By Kim Heller

Many epochs ago, a rather wayward employee of the Dutch East India Company (VOC), Jan van Riebeek, was tasked with setting up a refreshment and supply post at the Cape Peninsula. This was for ships travelling along the lucrative spice trade sea-route from Holland to the Far East.

Few history books log that Van Riebeek was assigned this seemingly arduous and unrewarding mission after being found guilty of corruption by the VOC. It could not have been foreseen that this opportunity for Van Riebeek to redeem himself to his employer would result in considerable and irreversible damage to the fate and fortunes of the indigenous people living on the land of South Africa.

Although there was no formal instruction to colonise the Cape, Van Riebeek and his band of merry travellers were to dislodge and disfigure the very contours of the native African topography. The spores of colonialism were to seep so deeply into the African soil that centuries later it continues to shape the South African economy and cultural landscape.

In South Africa, the colonial ecology is largely intact and unlike in many other colonised countries, the coloniser has stayed. The coloniser is always an uninvited, destructive, and ungrateful guest; and never fully sated. For now, it looks like the greedy coloniser has eyes fixed on seceding the Cape from the rest of the country.

For the Cape Independence Party, the democratic order in South Africa is no utopia, and they are desperately seeking an old-world order nirvana, on the ether of apartheid nostalgia. In the smash-and-grab of colonial conquest the Cape Independence Party now wants copyright and control over the Cape.

The Cape Independence party is on a mission to secede the Cape from South Africa and create a sovereign state. In order to justify this move, the party insists that the people of the Cape are entitled to an independent state given their distinct cultural and linguistic character. Last year, the Freedom Front Plus submitted the ‘Western Cape Peoples Bill,’ in a drive to get recognition of ‘Western Capetonians’ as a distinct people.

Self-determination is the new whine of the largely white Cape Independence party. There is a mischievous portrayal of self-determination as secession. Secession in this instance appears to be little more than a code word for white supremacy. The very motion for Cape Independence is both anti national unity and unpatriotic. It is active resistance and disdain for black majority rule in an African country. The call for secession is the very antithesis of national unity.

Section 41(1)(a) of the South African Constitution speaks to the issue of patriotism and national unity. “All spheres of government and all organs of state within each sphere must preserve the peace, national unity and the indivisibility of the Republic.”

The party speaks of “Becoming the Cape of Good Hope again,” by “creating our own first world nation on Africa’s southern tip”. Research conducted by Victory Research showed high support for Cape Independence across white and coloured people in the province (62% and 78% respectively). In contrast only 31% of black people were supportive.

Joan Swart a supporter of Cape Independence and executive member of the Referendum Party, was quoted in the City Press, on January 21, 2024. She said “The dismal performance of the national government is undeniable. In all but a handful of aspects, South Africa is a failing state and well on its way to a dystopian future. Beyond controlling our economic policies and resources, leading to more efficient and beneficial economic development tailored to local needs, we also believe that the region’s cultural or ethnic identity is distinct. Only independence can allow for the preservation and promotion of this unique identity. But, most of all, independence ensures that the governance processes are entirely in the hands of the local population, potentially leading to a more representative and accountable governance structure.”

The African Transformation Movement (ATM) describes the preposterous call for “Cape Independence” as a thinly veiled attempt to further marginalise Black South Africans in South Africa. On January 23, the party released a statement expressing its opposition to the proposal for Cape Independence. “We view this bill as a dangerous attempt to divide South Africa along racial lines and exclude the native population from their rightful land.”

This divisive agenda, masqueraded under the cloak of a legislative proposal, is reminiscent of the painful history South Africa endured during the arrival of settlers in the Western Cape. The ATM recognises the historical implications of such proposals and stands firm against any form of invasion or segregation that threatens the unity of our democratic state.” The ATM argues that the proposed Cape Independence is nothing but a “thinly veiled attempt to perpetuate hatred and intolerance, thereby undermining the considerable progress our nation has made in fostering unity and inclusiveness”.

The recent fight for Cape Independence must be located both within the geo-political context of resident colonialism and century long battles for and of white supremacy.

In the turbulent and uncertain seas of global conflict, warfare, and political reconfiguration, the Cape is a highly prized strategic asset. Control over the Cape is as important today in the game of global power and control, as it was in the seventeenth century fight of and for imperialism.

The Cape Independence pipers are unlikely to succeed to ‘steal’ the province and its strategic riches. An Independent Cape is a never-never land. Those who are unhappy with the current state of the South African democracy must either leave for better shores, return to their own homelands across the sea, or be part of building a prosperous South Africa.

The ATM is correct when it says, “South Africa must not be compelled to regress to the colonial agendas that led to the shedding of blood, the deliberate hunting, and lynching of the freedom fighters of this country, especially where retribution and atonement were never sought for the mistakes and injustices of the past.”

Kim Heller is a political analyst and author of ‘No White Lies: Black Politics and White Power in South Africa’.

This article was written exclusively for The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.