27 September 2014
In the most unlikely event of the ANC national government agreeing to a referendum on the succession of the Western Cape from the rest of South Africa, what chance is there of the “Yes to the Republic of Zille” winning the day?
Scotland’s independence referendum has come and gone. Like they say in South Africa’s parliament: The Noes have it! But the secessionists have won all sorts of promises of powers to the Holyrood parliament which they could not have dreamt of ten years ago.
There are distinct political similarities between the Western Cape and Scotland. The Western Cape’s ethnic makeup is different to the rest of the country. Non-black people, if one can use such a pejorative term, constitute the majority. Whites are a sizeable minority compared to the rest of South Africa. Coloureds rather than blacks – I use the term black to mean African black – constitute a majority. In Scotland, the majority of the people look much like the English in England, speak the same language, but see themselves as an entirely distinct ethnic group.
Helen Zille, who some have compared with the late Baroness Margaret Thatcher, has carefully martialed the forces of opposition to the ANC in the province. Like the Scottish National Party at Holyrood, the Democratic Alliance dominates the legislature in Cape Town. The ruling party in the United Kingdom, the Conservative Party of David Cameron, has just one seat in the Scottish House of Commons. While the ANC is the largest minority party in the Western Cape, it has lost the status of government in the province and of the Cape Town metropolitan in the last eight years. The chances of the ANC returning to power doesn’t appear at all likely in the foreseeable future.
Like the Scottish National Party, the DA has been growing election after election in the last decade or so. The first major breakthrough was in Cape Town in 2006, when Zille swept aside the ANC to become mayor. In 2009, she swept aside Lynne Brown to become premier of the province. In the 2011 election the Western Cape swung heavily to the DA – an outright victory in Cape Town as well as in 11 of the 24 local municipalities in the province. The ANC won only the Beaufort West local municipality – with a one-seat majority – outright. The SNP has also been showing strong growth in the elections in Scotland over the last decade, winning an outright majority in the Scottish parliament in 2011. Interestingly it received 45.4 percent of the vote in that year, roughly what the Yes for Scotland vote was in the referendum earlier this month. With that vote it garnered an overall majority in the Scottish parliament with 69 of the 129 seats at Holyrood. It had however formed a minority government in 2007 in the Scottish Parliament with 32.9 percent of the vote.
Of course, the DA is not a nationalist party, not yet anyway. It is making significant electoral progress in the economic powerhouse of South Africa – Gauteng – and the withdrawal of the Western Cape would shrink its support in the National Assembly. It is also a huge question whether the Western Cape has the fiscal strength to go it alone. Then there is also the question, how would the province delink itself from the massive SOEs, including Eskom and Transnet. Would the Southern African Development Community allow the Republic of Zille to be part of it, let alone the African Union?
At present the issue isn’t even on the table, but regional secession as it would be in South Africa and nationalist secession as it would have been in Scotland, starts with the planting of the political seed.
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