Why a free Cape won't fly

Thomas Johnson responds to RW Johnson's article on the possibility the province could go independent

An ‘independent’ Western Cape under the DA not to desired

I read RW Johnson’s article ‘An independent Western Cape?’ as a thought exercise, and not to be taken literally. I doubt the constitution, and ANC, would allow secession.

I definitely don’t agree with Alec Hogg, a fan of Johnson’s ‘brilliant’ writing, who in BizNews described it as ‘Western Cape separatist dreams could start taking root’.

Like Johnson, I too live in Cape Town, although on the Cape Flats and in the company of ordinary people.

When it comes up in conversation, people – including disillusioned former ANC voters – are disgusted by the ANC’s governance of the country. But mostly we are resigned – waiting for the next ‘huge’ scandal that analysts say might be the decisive knockout blow and ends their era of misrule. Two years ago Max du Preez was adamant President Jacob Zuma would not see out 2015 or 2016.

In the meantime, God forbid that Cape Town and the Western Cape returns to ANC rule. Nomaindia Mfeketo was a dreadful and an uninspiring mayor and her administration ineffective and wasteful. (Her ‘reward’ for losing the city to the DA was promotion to the National Assembly.) Imagine the scandal-prone Marius Fransman, with his unapologetic race-baiting, becoming premier?

It’s not that the city and province were badly managed by the ANC. It had, and still does, a core of hard-working, competent officials, including people of colour who are the traditional workforce of city. The latter are the people Jimmy Manyi said are in oversupply in the Western Cape, a racist comment surely, but not one deemed worthy to be scrutinised by the Humans Rights Commission or Equality Court. (By the way, why does Johnson capitalise ‘coloured’?)

The city and province – the rural parts of which always had high levels of poverty and unemployment – was not a bad place to be, even under the ANC. It’s just that the ANC, like everywhere else, brought incompetence and a smelly racial and political baggage with them, and a backward-looking demeanour that is always out of step with the world.

So, if over the past 20 years, one went to Cavendish Square, Waterfront or any middle-class gathering place, i.e. when they are happy to leave the safety of their high walls, does one see worried faces – worried enough to be thinking of a separate Western Cape?  No, they appear comfortable and satisfied, insulated by their cocoon of privilege and indifference.

The sense I get is the middle-class here – of all races but particularly whites – can barely shake themselves out of their apathy to protest – in whichever way seems appropriate – about the decline of the country. Why would they? They are employed, have money and, thank God, the DA is running the city and province.

Johnson is enamoured with the DA’s management of the city and province, ascribing business confidence and investment in the region to it. I grant you they are busy little bees and competent, but technocratic, managers. Unfortunately, like technocrats on the Left or Right, they lack soul.

I can’t fault Johnson’s analysis of the people of the Western Cape’s disaffection for the ANC. This is well-known and proven by the election numbers. But I do question his assumptions the city and province is attracting investment and a good place to be solely because of DA governance.

Wesgro, the provincial investment and trade agency, pre-dates the DA administration, as do financial houses that have their headquarters here. While acknowledging the province’s and city’s work hard to promote the region, it is only the metro and nearby that are recipients of job-creating investment. As always, poor rural areas with their high unemployment are dependent on farming, which the DA fanatically supports, literally at the expense of the region’s unique and threatened bio-diversity (see below).

Johnson’s statement that the ‘decay of Cape Town's inner city has been halted and reversed’ is not due to the DA-run city, but city improvement districts (CID), an initiative started in South Africa by the development-orientated Cape Town Partnership in 1999 under the leadership of former ANC city manager Andrew Boraine.

First started in Toronto, CIDs are not-for-profit companies formed by a majority vote of property owners and funded by levies collected on their behalf by the municipality. They are responsible for (additional) cleaning, security and related services in the city centre, Green Point and other suburbs where they operate.

A major factor for Cape Town’s desirability as a destination, particularly to tourist dollars, is its natural beauty and ‘Continental, easygoing lifestyle’ (at least in the well-heeled part of town, far from its township squalor), well-educated people, still good universities, high human development index and good infrastructure. No political party in particular can claim credit for this, although I agree the DA has maintained things well.

I agree those blacks and sometimes whites – many of whom were not born here – who find the city ‘un-African’ and ‘racist’, have a grudge and/or don’t know the city well.

A major problem I have with the DA is that under former party leader Helen Zille, having had a taste of power, the party lost its liberal roots. I understand former DA leader Tony Leon once remarked that there are few liberals left in the DA. This is a concern Wilmot James acknowledged to me when I emailed him after his criticism of the DA’s family values charter and his claim it diluted liberalism.  

By the way, James had the courtesy to reply, unlike his colleagues Mmusi Maimane and others, who ignored me when I emailed them about various matters.

Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille, Zille and other DA politicians are remarkably strident, combative and condescending toward citizens, especially to those who oppose their ‘red-carpet’ approach to business and development, which is seeing the insidious concreting of environmentally, agriculturally and culturally sensitive areas, or toward those who question their notion of development. Apparently, we citizens don’t know anything and only the DA knows best.

Is this the way to treat voters that gave them the city?

These past couple of weeks I have been flabbergasted by DA councillors and city officials who, after I requested year-old public information about the white elephant Cape Town Stadium, deliberately stalled, obfuscated and lied to me, and presented doctored information as complete and true. And they claim ‘clean government’ and ‘transparency’.

(Incidentally, the concept of ‘clean’ audits and the purpose of audits are frequently misunderstood and overstated by those in government and the lay public, including Johnson who mentions the number of clean audits the province receives. Last year Zille wrote the whole system of auditing government must be changed based on her misunderstanding and overreaction of an audit sampling anomaly during the auditor-general’s audit of 210 library books. (Disclosure: I’m a former accountant who contracted on AG audits.)

We expect hooliganism and dishonesty from the ANC – some would say it is party culture – but the DA?

DA councillor Ian Iversen assaulted a resident and DA councillor Elizabeth Brunette told the same resident to ‘fuck off’ at a public inspection after residents were forced to approach the councillors who until then had refused to respond to their concerns about another inappropriate development. A group of DA councillors wrote to the local paper defending their colleagues.  Iversen and Brunette received a slap on the wrist.

A senior manager and doctor in the WC health department was persecuted for three years through a disciplinary process and all the way to the Labour Court for allegedly having been insubordinate his putative ‘employer’, Premier Helen Zille. This concerned a matter that did not relate to his job as provincial employee – it was a matter of public interest, already public and fell within the ambit of free speech and fair comment.

The doctor’s sin was of being critical of Zille for her cabinet members using political pressure to influence an ‘independent’ provincial agency, CapeNature, for making a far-reaching decision that benefitted the agri-industry, a DA pet project. Zille denied the accusation when it first appeared, but in a connected matter, I obtained PAIA evidence proving some political influence took place.

The Court found the government had no case. I’m almost certain the doctor’s harassment originated in Zille’s inner circle – where else?

A similar case recently played itself out when the WC education department fired South Peninsula High School principal Brian Isaacs, a regular critic of the department and its politicised managers, because of insubordination. They also found him guilty of assaulting a pupil, charges the Wynberg Magistrates Court had earlier dismissed for lack of evidence.

The ANC has set the benchmark so low and South Africans’ expectation of mediocrity so engrained that when someone in government administration – a minister or political party like the DA – does the minimum we expect of them – a lower standard than we normally apply to any hireling – some overreact and say, as Peter Bruce did about finance minister Pravin Gordhan, ‘we must go down on our knees and thank God’.

Actually, we expect the DA to manage Cape Town and province in a manner commensurate with their very high salaries, salaries that exceed those for similarly qualified people in the private sector. So to suggest, as Johnson does, that because the DA are reasonably competent managers we should harbour separatists tendencies, and do so merely to spite the ANC, is too much.

The DA in the Western Cape is increasingly arrogant, authoritarian and unaccountable. Going by their record to date, in a hypothetical ‘independent’ Western Cape, they would display the hubris and absolutism that is the hallmark of the ANC. And we don’t need more of that.