A number of organizations are currently advocating for Western Cape independence or at least greater autonomy for the province. The support for their cause would appear to be quite substantial. This is partly due to the fact that the Western Cape self-government movement is clearly not a bunch of nationalist extremists.
The movement rather stems from quite understandable practical experience. Supporters of Western Cape self-government strive to escape the ANC regime's protracted looting and corruption.
Concomitant with this is the self-government movement's experience that the Western Cape is governed infinitely better under the DA compared to the botched work of the ANC in the rest of the troubled country.
It is therefore obvious that this movement would want to enhance the level of Western Cape self-government. Only fools would acquiesce to the ANC’s rule of plunder if they knew from experience that they could do better.
Moreover, the case for Western Cape self-government - in fact for all forms of self-government - is premised on cogent principles of constitutionalism, more specifically the principle of subsidiarity - something we should cherish.
Essentially it is viewed as natural and virtuous for capable communities to govern themselves rather than be dominated by some remote power. This, of course, is consonant with the idea of self-government, which lies at the heart of democracy.
The self-government movement finds its arch-rival in the centralists with the power-hungry ANC at the forefront. In line with its left-wing political instincts driven by old communist passions, the ANC wants every sphere of life and all assets under itscountrywide control.
Anything that may weaken its own dictates – local, regional and cultural autonomy and self-government, federalism, devolution of power, a free economy, etc. – is threatening to the ANC and it wants to destroy that. But even outside the ANC there is an unhealthy centralist current, equally averse to self-government.
Thus former president FW de Klerk declared his aversion to the Western Cape self-government at a seminar on 11 November 2011, saying it cannot work, but without proffering clear reasons.
Tim du Plessis expressed the same feelings in Rapport-Weekliks on 29 November this zear. However, his centralist sentiments are more open than those of the former president. The Western Cape must not be allowed to decide for itself, because, he says, the province is not the sole property of its inhabitants as if the rest have no say in the matter.
Du Plessis' feeling is exactly the opposite of subsidiarity and self-government, and echoes - albeit probably without any proper reflection - centralist sentiments similar to those of the ANC.
It is also argued that self-government is constitutionally impossible. This is what De Klerk also says. According to this kind of argument, the Constitution does not authorize self-government for regions or communities. This state of affairs can only be changed with the consent of a two-thirds majority of Parliament. This is impossible due to the ANC's aversion to self-government and that settles the matter finally.
The argument is patently wrong. The issue is not settled, because a constitutional order does not change only by amending constitutional provisions. On the contrary, it also changes - and often much more profoundly - through a mixture of socio-economic and political forces. In South Africa it is the order of the day.
I highlight some of these forces, which pertain specifically to self-government.
Owing to a culture of crime accompanied by decaying and deeply corrupt police service, the state forfeited its core function, over which it is supposed to exercise a monopoly, namely the maintenance of public order. This function is now shared with organized spheres of the citizenry: with per capita one of the largest private security industries in the world, with neighborhood watches, farm watches and various other security formations in especially black neighborhoods and informal settlements.
Over the past few decades, private security villages (and demarcated rural areas) have mushroomed everywhere. They provide their own security services and, as part of whichthey enforce their own access control - border control - more effectively than the control supposed to be provided by the state. They perform all functions associated with effective municipal government - and many more.
Thus viewed, the micro-republicanism of Orania, extends more widely than this Northern Cape town, because as the state retreats, it makes way for a variety of self-governing micro-republics. The law enacted by the state and which is supposed to be enforced by organs of the state is dwindling as the state is withdrawing and the vacuum is filled by systems of default law.
Such default law stems from community consensus and a common interest in a peaceful, secure and civilized way of life, sometimes strengthened by common culture, language and religious beliefs.
These micro-republics with their default law are certainly not always moonshine and roses, but they are by far preferable to the dangerous lawlessness that would otherwise fill the void left by the decayed state legal order.
There is an assortment of other additional forces eroding the state order. Most important is the state's bankruptcy, the effect of which we are now beginning to feel, and which is going to be massive.
As a consequence, government will be precluded from offering the benefits it used to provide. It will no longer be able to hand out jobs and pay salaries (a fate that has already hit several state-owned enterprises); it will no longer pay grants, provide services and buy loyalty. In consequence, the pull that the government used to keep the citizenry attached to the state will have been squandered and everyone will be forced to become self-reliant. This is precisely why the Western Cape self-government movement is not to be underestimated.
Independent power generation, massive social assistance by churches and civic organizations, private education, civil dispute resolution, etc., are important forces that support the independence of communities and micro-republicanism in the face of the retreating and increasingly bankrupt state.
The South African state's age of 110 years (since 1910) is of course no guarantee for its undisturbed continuity as Tim du Plessis seemed to hope for two weeks ago.
Age is not in itself a guarantee for the state’s undisturbed survival and will not be an effective obstacle to the Western Cape’s or other forms of self-government. States remain stable as long as the conditions for stability and survival are met; and they undergo transformations or dissolve because these conditions lapse.
This is exactly what is happening now. Under the ANC and partly because of its state failure, the conditions for maintaining the South African unitary state are withering. This is quite ironic, given that the ANC is so devoted to centralization. The age of the South African state provides no guarantee of sorts for its continuation. On the contrary: it is a decaying state and its days are numbered.
So, is it really true that the Constitution makes self-government impossible as the former president said? Clearly not, because although the wording of the Constitution remains unchanged, there are large-scale changes to the constitution - the actual constitution – taking place on a significant scale, as I have explained elsewhere. The Constitution has no control over this.
The actual constitution changes right before our eyes, but because of the delusion of the super-being, called the supreme Constitution, we gape at its wording and miss the actual changes playing out around us.
The growing self-government along the path of micro-republicanism and concomitant default law is one such item of constitutional change. Because of the political forces, some of which are referred to above, which are now picking up steam, it is destined to bring about a far-reaching constitutional upheaval. The Western Cape self-government movement is merely one part of this.
By Koos Malan, 17 December 2020
This article first appeared in Rapport newspaper.