Go it alone: Democratic Alliance federal council chairperson Helen Zille (centre). The DA has been accused of stalling on the decision to hold a referendum on Western Cape independence. Photo: Deon Ferreira/Gallo Images
The Democratic Alliance (DA) has potentially alienated a chunk of its electoral support in the Western Cape, which has resulted in the birth of a new party pushing for an independent Cape.
The DA had previously shown an appetite to indulge its constituents in the province who were yearning for the Western Cape to run independently from the rest of South Africa.
In 2021, the party announced that it would place in parliament a private members’ bill to amend the Electoral Commission Act and repeal the Referendums Act.
The bill would enable premiers to exercise their constitutional powers to call a provincial referendum to take this unilateral power from the president.
This was seen as a step in the direction of Cape independence by the DA’s Western Cape supporters. But with the party seemingly dragging its feet, its political allies, including the Freedom Front Plus (FF+), were quick to call out the blue party.
In October, FF+ said the people of the province ought to be granted the opportunity to express their vision for the future through a referendum. Its MP, Corné Mulder, said the party fully supported the call for an independent Cape.
“There is already widespread support among the people for holding a referendum in the Western Cape. Online polls have confirmed this on more than one occasion,” Mulder said, accusing Western Cape Premier Alan Winde of “hiding” behind the constitutionality of referendums.
“The more than 800 000 registered members of CapeXit, which is seeking independence for the Western Cape and has already expressed that it is in favour of a referendum, serve as further proof.”
The FF+ has previously used the Democratic Alliance’s weaknesses during elections, particularly during the 2019 vote, resulting in a watershed moment for the DA when its then leader, Mmusi Maimane, resigned.
The DA could face a challenge in the 2024 elections from new entrants the Referendum Party, which is made up of DA supporters who have been frustrated by its doublespeak on a referendum.
In September, a poll by Victory Research on behalf of the Cape Independence Advocacy Group (CIAG) showed that 77% of Western Cape voters do not have a positive outlook for South Africa’s future, Cape Talk radio reported.
With a 5% margin of error, the poll suggested that 68% of the people living in the Western Cape supported the idea of a referendum on independence.
Two thirds of people said they believed their quality of life would improve if the Cape was independent.
Referendum Party leader and CIAG founder Phil Craig told the Mail & Guardian that the DA had forced the birth of his party by reneging on its promise.
“Our entire purpose is to put the Western Cape premier under sufficient pressure that he calls a referendum on Cape independence, which polling shows that seven out of 10 Western Cape voters want.”
Craig said the people of the Western Cape wanted to be governed differently to how the people in the rest of South Africa wanted to be governed.
“This is just a matter of empirical fact, we’ve got 30 years of election results, we can see that in the Western Cape, the majority of voters have never once voted for the ANC. They want a different government, they want different policies. And that’s fundamentally different to the other provinces,” he said.
In 2019, the DA received 55.45% of the votes in the Western Cape, dropping from 59.38% in the 2014 elections, while the ANC received 28.64%, compared with its 32.89% in 2014.
“There’s lots of people who find themselves trapped in South Africa, because they are an ideological minority. They really dislike the government, it’s not being governed according to their democracy. Those people will have affinity and we make sense for them. It’s very, very attractive to have a region of the country that is going to share their ideological values,” Craig said.
He said the Referendum Party did not see itself in racial terms, insisting that it represented everyone who wanted an independent Cape. He added that the party was not trying to remove the DA from power in the province, but rather to make it listen.
“The Referendum Party has been created to give people an option to vote and actually to vote for Cape independence, or a referendum on Cape independence in a very safe fashion,” he said.
“And what I mean by that is, the DA has done a good job of running the Western Cape, and people like the DA in the government although they are not perfect. And the DA have kind of gambled on that so if we make people choose between these two issues, they’re going to go with us because we’re a safe government.
“The Referendum Party to a certain extent has called the DA’s bluff. So the Referendum Party is not trying to remove the DA from power. We actually make it one of our election policies. We will vote with the DA to make sure they keep in government in the Western Cape.
“Ultimately, we believe the Democratic Alliance shouldn’t be scared of asking the Western Cape people what it is that they want,” Craig added.