CapeXit Separatists Bid To Split South Africa

On a windy Cape Town morning, a small group of activists hands out flyers calling for secession.

“South Africa cannot be saved, Cape Independence is our only hope,” read the leaflets issued by the Cape Independence Party.

The group, also known as CapeXit in reference to Britain’s exit from the European Union, is one of two campaigns advocating for a separate state in Cape Town’s Western Cape region ahead of the May 29 national and provincial elections.

Theirs is destined to stay a pipedream due to its small size and lack of support.

However, observers say the parties’ bombastic demand is indicative of a broader Western Cape anger with the central government, which is likely to translate into greater calls for devolution.

“The worse the country gets, the more popular Cape independence becomes,” claimed CapeXit leader Jack Miller (39).

Frustration with South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC), which has been accused of corruption and mismanagement, is widespread as the country prepares for elections.

Thirty years after the party took power, bringing apartheid to an end, the economy is at a standstill, unemployment is at 30%, poverty is rife, and criminality is rampant.

– Better Cape?

Despite the inherent bleakness, the Western Cape has established a reputation for rather good government.

The province, which has been controlled by the liberal Democratic Alliance (DA), the largest opposition party, has the country’s lowest unemployment rate of 20%.

Only 38 out of 257 municipalities had a clean financial audit from an official watchdog in 2021/2022, with 21 in the Western Cape.

In recent years, droves of rich, mostly white families have migrated there from Johannesburg’s Gauteng, drawn by more than only the province’s natural beauty.

Many people report that roads have fewer potholes, public schools are better, and electricity and water infrastructure problems are less common.

The province’s population is likewise distinctive. Mixed-race people, known as and usually identifying as “coloured” in South Africa, make up the largest national minority.

White individuals are likewise overrepresented, whilst black people, who constitute the majority of the ANC electorate, are underrepresented.

As unseating the ANC nationally appears tough — the party is projected to fall below 50 percent for the first time, but it should remain the largest group and be able to create a coalition government — some Capetonians believe they’d be better off on their own.

According to a poll commissioned by a pro-independence lobby organization last year, 68% of provincial voters support a secession referendum, with more than half voting for it.

However, the supposed separatists’ zeal has yet to translate into actual votes.

– CapeXit unlikely –

While advocating for non-racialism, CapeXit has struggled to expand beyond its mainly white base.

“We have to free ourselves from this black government,” a party activist told AFP as he canvassed at a crossroads, before correcting himself and describing the ANC government as simply “corrupt”.

“I believe in a black, white, green, yellow but independent province,” said the 75-year-old, adding however that he was “old enough to remember white people on advertising on the television”.

At the road crossing, few motorists stopped to take a leaflet. Some pulled up their windows upon seeing the activists approach.

“I don’t see it make any sense to separate the Western Cape,” said Simbarashe Milos, a 24-year-old Cape Town concierge.

Founded in 2007, CapeXit won only two of the 231 seats on Cape Town City Council in 2021 and has barely managed to collect the 7,000 signatures needed to contest provincial elections in May.

Its cousin, the Referendum Party, said it has gathered only a slightly higher number of signatures.

Political analyst Daniel Silke dismissed the idea that, even with bigger numbers, the separatists would win out.

“Constitutionally they would be unable to force a secession of the Western Cape anyway, even if they were to gain some sort of powerful position, which is exceptionally unlikely,” he said.

In the meantime, the DA has been pushing for greater federal autonomy rather than a full divorce.

It has tabled a provincial bill seeking to devolve more powers to the Western Cape. The legislation is currently undergoing public hearings, having drawn an angry response from the ANC, which brands it unconstitutional.

And as the DA, which has struck a coalition pact with almost a dozen other parties, seeks to make gains in other provinces in May, other bids might follow.

“In a country as diverse as ours, federalism makes sense. The DA is pursuing it to the fullest extent possible,” DA leader John Steenhuisen said, presenting the bill last July.

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