Friday, April 2, 2010

Should the Western Cape secede from South Africa?

by Galen Sher

The impetus for this blog post is a conversation between Julian and I at the Cape Party's Facebook page. The Cape Party is a political party that contested the 2009 national elections and one of its goals is to "Return the Cape to a Free and Independent State".

There are two major arguments here for secession:
  1. National government is not sufficiently accountable to the people of the Western Cape. Hence it is difficult for people of the Western Cape to drive policy changes or to hold national government to account for unfair practices.
  2. Tax revenue raised in the Western Cape should be spent in the Western Cape, or should at least be spent as the people of the Western Cape would like it spent.

Here is the conversation at 2 April 2010 as it relates to secession:

If the national government continually "sidelines the people of the Cape" then why not redouble efforts to hold national govt to account? It seems to me that arguing for separation is a real jump in logic. Somewhere down the line, when the Cape government neglects its constituents in Helderberg, should we vote for Helderberg to be emancipated from the Cape govt?

It seems that establishing a Cape Nation won't really make any difference.

...even if the people of the Cape were vocal and did hold national government to account, what incentive does national government have to actually listen to them? I mean, the ANC & DA support bases lie elsewhere. Also, the ANC doesn't seem to be doing much for their own constituencies (cf. service delivery protests), because it's almost guaranteed their votes.

Cape secession represents a massive decentralization of power, which I think you'll agree is almost always a good thing. Added to that, the Cape Party is campaigning on a platform of even further decentralization & increased political / economic freedom. The CP could campaign for SA to change it's constitution in favour of greater political autonomy for each region, but I think that really would be tilting at windmills.

The most obvious benefit of decentralization is that each community has greater representation in the primary power structures that govern them. That's why the chance of Helderberg being neglected would be lower. Finally, I think if Helderberg really wanted to, they should have every right to secede.

On accountability: we must discuss this within the context of SA's three tiers of government - national, provincial and local. Yes, accountability requires more than vocality - it requires citizens to change their vote. Given that local govt can change hands independently of the other tiers and given that spending is directed at a provincial level, why is further autonomy necessary?

If further regional autonomy is necessary then CP needs to demonstrate why this could only be achieved through seccession.

To respond to ur first question: the national government has an incentive to listen to the people of the WC to the extent that the WC represents 11.4% of SA's registered voters and is the 4th largest province by this measure.

Last sentence and the "right to secede": In any secession group there will be a (usually minority) subgroup which is opposed, and the rights of both groups must be observed. The opposition group would have to be sufficiently small to justify violation of their right not to secede.

...the problem is that all the taxes are controlled by national government - provinces have no taxation power and local governments can only increase property rates if they want additional revenue.

Spending is not directed/allocated only at provincial level, a substantial part of the budget is given to the national administration to spend as they choose. Added to that, some of the money that is allocated to provinces falls under "conditional grants", which basically means the national government tells the province how to spend it. Added to THAT, the money allocated to the Western Cape is 60% of what it should be. Check the "Division of Revenue Act" discussion, or get in contact with Adrian Kay, he has more info.

Don't forget that money isn't the only issue. Our police, courts, prisons, schools, hospitals, laws etc. are all, at the least, heavily influenced by the national legislature and administration.

Apart from secession, how else could greater autonomy be achieved? What kind of lobbying would convince the ANC that it's a good idea to reduce their power?

Re. the incentive for the ANC to listen to WC population, I'm afraid you'll need to explain to me how having 11% of the vote counts as an incentive. If you were a cutthroat politician, wouldn't you exploit the 11% (who are unlikely to vote for you anyway) in order to win the votes of the other 89%?

Re. your last point: on a practical level, the system the Cape Party is proposing could theoretically allow for a community to keep the policies and laws of SA, or perhaps even become an enclave within the Cape Nation. But on a philosophical level, I don't actually believe in natural rights. I'm a nihilist, so for me right & wrong don't exist, might makes right and all that. But I do like individualist principles, and I think they generally make life better. So for me, "right to secede" translates into the individual right to choose one's government, which (for me) is good. So even if only 51% in an area (which could be very small) want to secede I think they should be allowed to, the practical details can be dealt with according to each case. The "right not to secede" will often translate into "forcing those other guys to live the way I think they should live". Of course, this discussion goes to the very heart of libertarianism...


  1. On lack of accountability

    Report by the Department of Cooperative Governance entitled 'State of Local Government in South Africa' says:

    "'A culture of patronage and nepotism is now so widespread in many municipalities that the former municipal accountability system is ineffective and inaccessible to many citizens.' It is this policy that is primarily responsible for destroying accountability and undermining the requirements of good governance."

  2. here is the link:

  3. freedom is God given, the government has no right to take what is not their to give, and they took it. we want freedom to persue our cultural intrests