The Democratic Alliance (DA)’s move to amend the Referendums Act to allow provincial premiers to call for referendums is a welcome initiative for local autonomy, provincial independence, and even forthcoming independence movements.
The Cape Independence Advocacy Group (CIAG), CapeXit, the Cape Party, and the Vryheidsfront Plus (VF+) have welcomed the DA’s announcement. These organisations claim that the current Referendums Act is unconstitutional, as the Western Cape Premier is already empowered to call for referendums by section 37(2)(f) of the Western Cape Constitution and all premiers are empowered by section 127(2)(f) of the national Constitution in the same way.
Despite this, the current form of the Referendums Act bars them from doing so, and must be changed to become consistent with the Constitution, and the spirit of provincial autonomy that is implied by provinces existing in the first place.
Benefits of Referendums
Federalism is not only beneficial for South Africa and local politics; it is an implied imperative by the fact that there are provinces in the first place. If provinces are unable to act independently, they might as well not exist. But ideally, they should, and with increased autonomy to not only run their local affairs, but also to seek local policies that reflect their contexts and needs.
CIAG and other independence organisations have lauded the DA’s move as being “a critical step in the path towards an independent Western Cape”.
Organisations like CIAG and CapeXit have continuously stated their desire for a Cape Independence referendum. This is a move that I am sceptical about. The variables needed for a successful referendum would make a referendum redundant, as the manpower, public support, and local support for independence would make direct negotiation and an eventual declaration of independence much more preferable. My views on the road the Cape Independence movement should take can be read in my article “Cape Independence: A Roadmap to Liberty”.
Despite my objections to focusing the Cape Independence strategy around easily lost or misconstrued referendums, I do believe this proposed amendment by the DA is a welcome move. And as long as the Cape Independence movement is dedicated to this path of action, it will serve their primary strategy.
The Cape Independence movement has called for supporters of independence to express support for the bill once it is tabled before Parliament, utilising public participation processes to help ensure that it is enacted.
In a professional show of good will, they have also urged the African National Congress (ANC) to support the bill in order to support the constitutional rights of the people of the Western Cape. And, I must add, the people of South Africa as a whole.
Enabling referendums to be called by provincial premiers serves the democracy, and the constitutional rights and liberty of all South Africans. Local autonomy enables leadership to more effectively serve their constituency, and allowing for referendums will increasingly help local democracy flourish – including the possibility of secession if other factors are achieved beforehand. Overall, it is a welcome move.