Western Cape does not have to be a well-oiled anomaly - Businesslive

10 January 2022 - Cape independence advocates responded smartly earlier in January when President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered a credible, if politically incomprehensible, vote of no confidence in his own party. The occasion was, of course, the fire at parliament, hastily attended to by the Cape Metro fire service.

Michael Morris
Cape independence advocates responded smartly earlier in January when President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered a credible, if politically incomprehensible, vote of no confidence in his own party. The occasion was, of course, the fire at parliament, hastily attended to by the Cape Metro fire service.

For those of us who live in the Western Cape there wasn’t much to write home about: we are more or less accustomed to public services functioning as they should. 

But Ramaphosa’s reaction was salutary. In a television interview outside parliament he said: “It does show that there are certain things that do work, even as we may think that the wheels are coming off on everything, and the fact that they [fire services] were here in a short space of time is something that we should be grateful for, that we do have one city [Cape Town] that works, we do have a province [Western Cape] that works …”

Deftly enough, the Cape Independence Advocacy Group (CIAG) cast this as an early delivery of the 2022 state of the nation address. And there’s no doubt Ramaphosa’s comments said a lot about the state of SA today, and why if the wheels aren’t coming off in the Western Cape they assuredly are elsewhere in the country.

You don’t have to be a Capexiteer (and I am not one) to acknowledge the sense of CIAG spokesperson Phil Craig’s assessment that “[it] should be lost on no-one that the reason we have this city and province that work is because the Western Cape electorate has habitually made better choices than the South African one”.

I don’t know whether Cape independence advocates believe the rest of the country is incapable of making the “better choices” that have served the Western Cape well, but I do know that a lot of South Africans are unaccountably wedded to a nearly fatalistic view of their fellow citizens.

Such fatalism — that culture, and political and social identity, are fixed and immutable — is the likely origin of the prevailing pessimism, which is far more widespread than is warranted.

But history isn’t like that. I recall a pointed hint of this in a 2009 newspaper article by Dave Steward of the FW de Klerk Foundation, in which he shared the following text: “What generally struck most outsiders … was the shabbiness and poverty of the average chief’s existence. Like his followers he was the product of a fundamental and intractable poverty. People lived by raising cattle … and goats and maintaining tiny plots of land. Most of the year food was scarce, so they supplemented their income by stealing from neighbouring clans, with elaborate and daring cattle raids.

"…The typical village was a collection of [huts]; to visitors at a distance, it looked like heaps of dirt in a field. It was only when they grew closer that they saw that these heaps of dirt housed human beings, with dogs, goats and half-naked children roaming among the huts ….”

The primitives, here, are not who we think they are. As Steward pointed out, rather than being what some might assume was an explorer’s description of a benighted corner of the colonial world, this quoted extract was actually an account of a visit to the Highlands of Scotland in the 18th century.

We are reminded that despite the enormous power of the myth of human potential being preordained by fixed cultural, tribal or racial identities, society is more of a movable feast than most imagine.

• Morris is head of media at the Institute of Race Relations.

https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/opinion/columnists/2022-01-09-michael-morris-western-cape-does-not-have-to-be-a-well-oiled-anomaly/

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