The shape of the independence movement today

The media has generally taken a strategy of pretending the vast majority of the movement doesn't exist, focusing only on its lowest-performing element, the CIP

Robert Duigan


Robert Duigan


Apr 19, 2024

The shape of the independence movement today

The Cape independence movement has at present five main organisations representing it, and several minor and parochial ones.

But media coverage almost exclusively focuses on the weakest elements of the movement in order to demoralise potential supporters. Understanding the landscape reveals how deliberate this policy is.

The Cape Independence Party is the oldest part of the movement, but is generally regarded as underperforming, failing to achieve more than a couple of seats in the Metropolitan Council. It is led by Jack Miller, a good-looking and well-spoken alumnus of Bishops’ College, who has toiled largely in the wilderness since 2007, an experience which has understandably embittered the party’s members against the political system, but done little to instill a sense of realpolitik.

Almost any mainstream media coverage for the movement in the last few months has been almost hysterical in its attempt to hyperfocus on the CIP, and downplay even their meager support, going as far as lying about the amount of signatures they gathered in the registration process this year. But they are far from being the only members of this movement.

There are bit-players like the reactionary United Liberty Alliance of Hein Marx or the Khoisan “Sovereign State of Good Hope” of King Khoebaha Calvin Cornelius III. There are ambivalent players, like Fadiel Adams’ National Coloured Congress, who support a referendum but not independence, as they have branched out from the Cape Flats to the South African interior in the past year or so.

But the main players are more substantial - CapeXit, the Vryheidsfront Plus, the Referendum Party, and the Cape Independence Advocacy Group.

The two organisations which have done the most to expand the movement beyond Jack Miller’s political circle are CapeXit and the Cape Independence Advocacy Group (CIAG). These are not political parties, but civic organisations.

CapeXit was started by a local Afrikaans businessman called Des Palm, whose facebook campaign drew in pledges from over 800 000 (mostly older) people from the Western Cape, but has refused to leverage this database into anything substantial, and has declined to offer any substantial help to political parties supporting secession, leading to a major fallout with the CIP over the CapeXit brand name, the details of which are too boring and pointless to discuss.

Despite the toothlessness, rigidity and failure to grasp reality with both hands (Palm &co believe that if they get their database up to 50% of the electorate, they can simply submit it as a referendum petition, and the country will just automatically become soveriegn - amusingly naive) CapeXit has done more than most to broaden the movement’s horizons, bringing the proposal to pubs and conference centres around the province, and turning it into a household topic of conversation.

The CIAG is a pressure group, which has focused on research, lobbying and publicity to raise the profile of the movement, lifting it off the small and largely ephemeral grassroots support into a nationally (and increasingly globally) visible movement.

Led by UK expat Phil Craig and a cluster of other businessmen from the Boland region, as well as the 20-year old Robert King, the small group managed to push articles onto the pages of almost all major newspapers by embracing a brand which appeals to mainstream DA voters.

Their political analysis in newspaper articles increased the respectability f the movement by demonstrating that they understand more than gut-level collective interest questions, and could formulate a concrete strategy for achieving independence.

By recruiting the same polling research professionals used by the DA, Victory Research, they provided the evidence that support went beyond the digital realm, and showed consistent growth, with the last poll (conducted a year ago) showing 2/3rds support for a referendum, and nearly 60% support for independence.

A recent addition to the movement has been the Vryheidsfront Plus (VF+), led in the Cape by Dr Corné Mulder, the longest-serving Member of Parliament in South African history, and the author of Section 235 of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to collective self-determination for any group within South Africa that claims it (provided the claim is in line with legislation, that is).

The VF+ is an old Christian-Afrikaner party which has recently expanded its mandate to Coloured Afrikaans speakers and the more conservative elements of Anglophone society, and has a robust supporter base, and a reputation for honest dealing, mature and levelheaded negotiation tactics, challenging the DA from the right in the Cape, where they forced them into coalition in 60% of the local councils.

Unfortunately, the northern leadership has been reluctant to support the Cape branch in their push for secession, despite it being the first concrete opportunity the party has had to fulfil its core mandate for self-determination since the party was founded 30 years ago.

This has meant that they have not been able to campaign on the issue with as much fervour and freedom as they would have liked, though Dr Mulder has boxed his corner well, and made sure that secession remains a core issue in the provincial campaign.

The DA was recently forced to participate in the movement when meetings between Phil Craig and the DA leadership resulted in talks about a referendum, and the DA, worrying about the conundrum placed on them by the rising demand for greater autonomy, decided it would be a good time to start pretending to take their manifesto pledges seriously.

Phil Craig, by leveraging support from AfriForum, VF+, Ian Cameron’s Action Society anti-crime NGO, Kaapse Forum, CapeXit and the CIP, forced the DA to form a working group to come up with ways to devolve control to the Western Cape.

I was contracted to provide a document covering devolution opportunities and challenges within the present constitutional framework, and the report ran to 99 pages in foolscap, though it was not read or discussed in the chamber. The ultimate conclusion of this exhaustive research was that the piecemeal approach would yield no fruit in any reasonable amount of time, and that it was far easier and more practical to seize control of all policy areas at once.

And Phil Craig appears to have been of a similar mind - out of this workshop came the Peoples Bill, a piece of legislation he penned, which leveraged several international treaties and aspects of the national and provincial constitutions to lay a claim to self-determination which would have given the province the right to form its own police force, take control of public transport, and do pretty much everything aside from national defence, tax collection and border control.

The DA ran scared from this legislation, which would have scuppered Helen Zille’s long-term plans for a coalition with the ANC, and instead, they pushed their own utterly toothless piece of legislation, the Western Cape Provincial Powers Bill, in order to assuage criticism that they were rejecting the federalism they had touted as their main political strategy since 2000.

The Powers Bill simply makes space for the provincial government to look for ways of devolving some petty and marginal powers within the present system, though it was not passed without a bit of kayfabe from the ANC, who pretended this useless bit of paper was a profound insult to national integrity, and shut down the public participation process with rowdy protests, with no resistance offered by provincial authorities, who preferred to simply give into ANC tactics.

During the process of the Devolution Working Group, Phil Craig managed to extract a promise from John Steenhuisen for a referendum on independence as well.

But after derision and public rebuke by the DA, who refused to cooperate in good faith with the Working Group, merely using it as a containment exercise, they told the movement that if they wanted independence, they would have to vote for it, knowing full well that the most visible supporters of the movement were still the tiny CIP, whose two seats in the Metropolitan Council were a source of mockery by the media establishment and South African Unionist public.

As a result, the CIAG set up the Referendum Party, which has since managed to register on all three ballots despite arbitrary challenges and contradictory instructions from the IEC, and will now be able to take on the DA in a pincer movement, with the VF+ representing a conservative Afrikanerphone constituency, and the RP representing a Liberal, Anglophone support base.

The CIP have since failed to gain enough signatures to stand on the three ballots for the upcoming election. While they did obtain enough for the province, the IEC rejected them on technical grounds, due to them sending them by email after failing to submit them through the buggy official website portal.

The RP and VF+ managed to hammer out a coalition pledge for mutual support going into the May 29th elections, with the CIP not yet having offered support to either party despite not being in the running for the elections.

With the DA teetering on the edge of their majority, with very low-50s support, the coalition now need only 5% growth from the VF+’s previous support base in order to force the DA into coalition. With the Patriotic Alliance biting at their heels, the RP demonstrating real support so far, and the VF+ on a steady growth trajectory, the coalition that will bring us the referendum is all but inevitable.

And yet the media will still pretend the CIP is the only player in this game.

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