CapeXit? Separatists bid to split South AfricaTue, 19 Mar 2024 06:43:10 GMT

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.Also known as CapeXit, in a nod to Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, the group is one of a couple campaigning for a separate state in Cape Town’s Western Cape region ahead of May 29 national and provincial elections. Small and with little support, theirs is bound to remain a pipedream. But analysts say the parties’ bombastic demand is symptomatic of a wider Western Cape frustration with the central government that is likely to turn into louder calls for devolution. “The worse the country gets, the more popular Cape independence becomes,” said CapeXit leader Jack Miller, 39. Frustration with the ruling African National Congress (ANC), accused of corruption and mismanagement, is ubiquitous across South Africa as it heads to the polls.Thirty years after the party came to power bringing an end to apartheid rule, the economy is at a standstill, unemployment sits above 30 percent, poverty is widespread and crime rampant.- Better Cape? –  Amid the general bleakness, the Western Cape has built a reputation for relatively good governance. Long run by the liberal Democratic Alliance (DA), the leading opposition party, the province has a 20-percent jobless rate, the lowest in the country. Of the only 38 out of 257 municipalities that were given a clean financial audit by an official watchdog in 2021/2022, 21 were in the Western Cape. In recent years, droves of affluent, largely white families have moved there from Johannesburg’s Gauteng attracted by more than the province’s natural beauty. Roads have fewer potholes, public schools are better and power and water infrastructure breakdowns are less frequent, many say.The province’s demography is also distinct. Nationally a minority, mixed-race people, who in South Africa are known as and largely identify themselves as “coloured”, are the largest group.White people are also overrepresented, while the opposite is true for black people, who make up the core of the ANC electorate. As unseating the ANC nationally seems difficult — the party is expected to drop below 50 percent for the first time but should remain the largest group and be able to form a coalition government — some Capetonians have come to believe they’d be better off alone. A poll commissioned by a pro-independence lobby group last year suggested 68 percent of voters in the province favour a referendum on secession and more than half would vote for it. But the purported separatists’ enthusiasm is yet to turn 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 crossroad, 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.