The Cape Party: a bad joke

There are many reasons to find the Cape Party deeply annoying, and perhaps the main one is that it’s still around. It was formed in 2007, and I wrote about it in 2011, saying: “The Cape Party, with its quixotic attempt to have the Western Cape secede from SA, operates in a fine tradition of civic blindness — because it’s constitutionally illegal, of course.

“Snide Joburgers will point out that the Cape has already seceded from the rest of the country, what with its ‘one blonde, one vote’ policy and its insistence that Eurotrash be added as a 12th official language. So why not make it official?”

The “one blonde, one vote” bit, of course, was a dig at the whiteness of the DA’s ideologies if not its voter base, and also because, in those long-ago days of 2011, it seemed we would never be rid of Helen Zille (insert knowing snort here), and that the DA was a political Ouroboros, the worm forever swallowing its own tail when it wasn’t being wagged by the dog. And yes, that mixed metaphor is my homage to the DA’s confused political messaging.

But at least the DA, like the EFF and the ANC, can pass for a real political party with actual aims, vaguely realistic policies, and real-world effects, both good and bad, on the people who vote for them.

What is the Cape Party, you ask, but a joke? And why waste column space on it? It’s like writing about Orania as if it were relevant to the political dispensation, or AKA as if he had something sensible to contribute to the cultural discourse of our country. You probably think of the Cape Party, if indeed you ever do, as a bunch of idiots who want another Orania, just with better restaurants.

You’d be right, but the party is also a depressing reminder that there are people out there who still believe they aren’t South Africans, and possibly never will think of themselves as South African.

If SA is a rainbow nation, then the Cape Party supporters believe they’re the pot of gold at the foot of the rainbow, and they want to be left alone to spend it at Cavendish Square or the Waterfront. It’s like they think apartheid’s spatial oppression was a jolly good start, but now it’s time to finish the job.

Much of the messaging is about how the Cape is wasting money by paying into a national fund that benefits all South Africans. It’s our money, and we’re wasting it on things like schools in Limpopo! Or roads! Why does Mpumalanga even need roads, it hardly has any tourists!

This is the Cape Party’s actual manifesto: “We are being robbed economically. We are being racially and culturally oppressed. It is our choice! We can end this and build a prosperous country!

“If the ANC-controlled SA government will not negotiate with us to stop its policy of persecution against the Cape and its people, then we will be forced to pursue our only option …”

Those are pretty ominous ellipses. What is the “only option” that you are being forced to take up? Violent revolution? Bloody murther, as we spell it in the Olde Cape?

No, it turns out the party will be driven to a much more edgy option: “Through legal and peaceful means we will strive towards a democratic referendum in which we, the people of the Cape, may decide our own future and destiny as an independent state …”

Again with the ellipses of uncertainty, though. Like they haven’t really thought it through, and realise that on some level.

The Cape Party isn’t just a big fan of ellipses. Its writers never saw an exclamation mark they didn’t like, either. Here’s their breathtaking analysis of how, to use their own formulation, “the Cape is being economically violated”.

“The Western Cape pays: R185bn. The Western Cape gets: R45bn. We are allocated a mere 24% of what we pay in! The other 76% is controlled by the National sphere of government, in other words, the ANC! We ‘survive’ on R45bn! If we were independent we would have an additional R140bn at our direct disposal!”

And this is why I find the Cape Party so distasteful. I hate the idea of patriotism as much as the next person who hates the idea of patriotism (not my most elegant simile, I admit). But there’s a big difference in being angry when politicians try to drum up nationalistic fervour for devious ends, and deciding that you’re not South African.

What chance do we have as a loosely defined group of people, thrown together by the vicissitudes of history and forged in the painful crucible of globalisation, to create a country that works for all of us if we have people who think they’re above it all?

The Cape Party’s ideologues don’t just think they’re above it all in the SA sense — they don’t even think the Cape should be part of Africa. “The time has come for us to chart a different course. Here in the Western Cape we can build Africa’s only first-world country.”

And it’ll come as no surprise to you to learn that the Cape Party is vehemently opposed to a lockdown, and think it’s all a ploy by the ANC to destroy the Cape.

“If we all convince one person to support Cape independence, we double our numbers,” it says. Which, if we read that in a grammatically rigorous way, seems to imply the party will go from one to two supporters. And its actual supporters, I’m proud to say as a Capetonian, aren’t that many more in number.

The Cape Party is “registered with the Independent Electoral Commission, and was on the provincial ballot of the Western Cape in the SA general elections of 2009, where it received 2,552 votes. It stood again for the municipal elections in 2016, where it received 4,473 votes.”

Yes, it’s laughable. Consider this part of the party manifesto, for example: “The Cape Party will strive to return the diverse Cape to her natural independence. Once and for all bringing an end to the oppression suffered under the British-imposed colonial Union of SA.”

Yep, it’s still fighting the British. And, sure, the numbers are insignificant. But the Cape Party is an uncomfortable reminder that there are still parts of SA where the blindness of privilege rides the hobbyhorse of exceptionalism, and where people are working against even our current ragged notion of “our people”.

[First published in the Financial Mail, 11 June 2020 – 05:00]

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