South Africa


Cape of Good Nope — How a fringe party heralds arrival of brave new balkanisation

Cape Of Good Hope, Cape Town, South Africa – 2017.

The South African media is routinely criticised for giving political kooks, nut jobs and racists a ‘platform’, as if we’re bar mitzvah DJs that must honour requests for ‘Candle in the Wind’ at the appropriate emotional cues. But South Africa’s social and political health can no longer be determined by examining the ANC, the DA or the EFF, which are empty vessels. The future, if you’re looking for it, is on the edges.

For those who believe that the Western Cape exists in a different universe, there’s now video evidence to back that up. Imagine a political commercial crossed with Baywatch, a terrorist beheading video and a fruit salad, and you arrive at the footage recently uploaded by the media wing of the Cape Party. The skit, if you can call it that, parodies the Reclaim Clifton protest, a.k.a. the beach encounter that brought (white) vegans face to face with (black) anti-racism activists in what was not, by all accounts, a high point in South Africas already spotty history of racial reconciliation.

The original #ReclaimClifton protest exploded local race relations into heretofore unvisited Grand Guignol territory: a sheep was sacrificed on Clifton beach in order to ritually expunge racism. It seems not to have worked, because there now exists a fascinating sidebar. Meet Jack Miller, president of the Cape Party, who last week managed to renounce anti-sheep violence by threatening a more menacing, surgical type of violence that was 87% more horrifying, despite shedding no blood.

The Cape Party video went viral instantly, largely because of the way in which it elided centuries of beach discrimination that inspired the #ReclaimClifton protests in the first place. It begins with the partys small, mostly white zombie horde lurching towards the camera, waving the cheery nautical-themed flag as they advance. A dog lies tethered to a gazebo on the beach. Will they slaughter the innocent organic-food-only pooch, thus breaking white South Africas ultimate taboo? Of course not. Miller and his crew unwrap a watermelon, and lovingly place it on the blazing Cape sand.

Like Dwayne Johnsons stunt double after three rails of coke and half a barrel of hair gel, Miller stares dead into the camera lens. For hundreds and hundreds of years,he growls, the Cape has had a multi-ethnic culture, with strong bonds to the oceans, that have given birth to our nation, the Cape of Good Hope. The beach is a place of sanctity and friendship for us. Unlike other cultures in Southern Africa, here in the Cape, we have a different culture.

(I’m not sure what that means either. But its worth noting that the Cape Partys manifesto declares that a) Afrikaans is the majority/common language heritage in the Capeand that b) In 1652 the blend of Khoisan and Dutch began a culture that today forms the majority of the Cape.”)

We do not slaughter animals. And we do not tolerate racism,Miller continues. No, here in the Cape, we do things differently.Then, with a terrifying schwing, he unsheathes a bush knife. Never before has a watermelon been so quickly and efficiently dismembered. Miller hands over the spoils to his faithful, who honour him with fervent applause.

Then a giant killer crab leaps from the water and fires lasers from its eyes.

I made that last part up.


How does one perform a forensic audit of the prelapsarian South African mind?

Does one peer into the corruption gyre that is the African National Congress, a money laundering machine posing as a political party? Does one dig through the bowels of the Democratic Alliance, a self-avowed multiracial party that perfectly elucidates the failure of multiracialism? Or does one study the Economic Freedom Fighters, a personality cult that whipsaws from one expedient position or political alliance to the next, while living off the spoils of a bank robbery?

In a perfect world, and in an honest election season where policy trumps bullshit, South Africa would be blessed with three definitive ideological choices in a genuine political free market. On the right, the DA would pitch its meritocratic, colour blind pro-growth liberalism. In the centre, the ANC would promote a strong development state that mixes a subsistence-level social grant system with functional affirmative action policies. On the left, the EFF would offer the full Marxist buffet, with a focus on uplifting black Africans.

If youre laughing out loud, thats mostly because the Big Three have given up even hinting at coherent policy positions. Like Luke Skywalker and Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back, theyve crawled into the stinking carcass of the late-capitalist Tauntaun, and theyre waiting out the thaw.

Well, bad news: the thaw is never going to end. Were one month into a five-month campaign season, and its clear that mainstream South African politics has melted away into an extraordinary melange of criminality, dysfunction and incompetence. This is no joke: the entire system has fucked out. The ANC will, of course, win with an increased majority, despite that fact that a series of commissions have exposed the craven exploitation of the Zuma years. The ANC’s chief argument: these are now Ramaphosa years, so all good now.

The only thing left to do is gaslight enough South Africans into believing that voting is their democratic duty, so that this whole saga is laundered into legitimacy at the polls.

In other words, the future of the country cant be understood from the point of view of the political mainstream. It can only be understood from the fringes. Increasingly, radicals on either the right or the left determine policy, allowing the governing party to stay huddled in the Tauntaun carcass, and to live (and steal) another day. And its not just the ANC: after Helen Zille claimed on Twitter that she would devote herself to mounting a tax revolt, the DA couldnt muster a categorical renouncement — because Zilles bro-dude white libertarian business base is pretty much all they have left.

So, as tempting as it is to dismiss Jack Miller and his watermelon slaughtering minions, there is much to be learned about the country from their recent beach-scapade.


I ring Miller up, as one does, curious about his partys parodic foray into South Africa’s race wars. (This is not the first time they’ve waded in. They made an application to have Dean Hutton’s “Fuck White People” artwork declared hate speech; have made similar moves to have land expropriation without compensation declared a crime against humanity; etc.) Miller is as Hollywood gruff on the phone as he is in the infamous footage, but kind enough to chat on a Saturday afternoon — which, after all, is a good time to enjoy the sanctity and friendship of the local beaches. Miller tells me that he entered politics 11 years ago. Since its inauguration in 2007, the Cape Party has amassed about 10,000 members, and earned over 4,000 votes in the 2016 municipal elections. When not dominating fruit or demanding freedom for the Cape nation, Miller works in the agricultural sector, selling animal feed.

So surely the more slaughtered sheep, the better?

Har har,says Miller.

I ask him who came up with the idea for the video.

It came from within the Cape Party, and ja, it was our response to the racism of the EFF.(Miller has repeatedly attributed the #ReclaimClifton protests to the EFF, which is not accurate. It was organised by a group called the Black People’s National Crisis Committee, overseen by veteran shit-disturber (literally) Chumani Maxwele.) We thought we would create a comedy that would parody the slaughter of a sheep. We do not promote the murder of any ethnic group as the EFF did.Miller interpreted the whiteness of the sheep as symbolic, and the ritual slaughter as a warning: whites are endangered in this country.

The Cape Party shared the watermelon on the beach with many different races,he continues. We can live in harmony as a true Rainbow Nation in a Cape that has greater control of its economic and social policies.

Mmkay. But the core of the party’s Western Cape exceptionalism smacked of Steven Bannon-endorsed populist nationalism, except with a better class of sundowners. (The party also advocates for the independence of all Afrikaans-speaking majorities in the country, including the Northern Cape, municipalities in the Free State, a few other joints here and there.) I wanted to understand his commitment to identitarian-driven secession, and whether he truly believed that one day, the Western Cape would be a proudly independent country.

First and foremost, we are a Federalist Party,he informs me. The Cape Partys central demand is that more power is devolved to South Africas provinces, and that the centralism that defines the countrys current predicament is done away with:

If the ANC doesnt negotiate, well call for a referendum, and if we win a majority, then well declare the Western Cape a independent country.

The legal intricacies of such an endeavour are incredibly complex — and virtually impossible to engineer — but the partys manifesto offers a framework for secession that combines the South African Constitution, the United Nations Charter of 1945 and the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, among other landmark documents.

Miller suggests that Catalonias recent attempts to secede from Spain should be considered a case study.

Primarily, its economic. We need to have a better tax deal,said Miller. The province gives up nearly R200-billion in taxes, and gets R50-billion back.

(This is a vast simplification of the in-out centralised tax system, but it’s fair to say no single South African taxpayer — i.e. all of us — gets the ROI they deserve.)

A federal system will work anywhere in the world,” insisted Miller. “The poor economic performance here is because of centralism and the ANCs communist policies. If you want to unlock the economic potential, you need to go toward the federal route.

Critics of the ANC on the right tend to categorise the party as communist, and on the left as neoliberal — taxonomical confusions that arise from the fact that ideologues often have a difficult time grasping how empty of actual ideology the governing party has become. Theyre an organised crime network: no one would suggest that the Cosa Nostra is communist just because they hand out free cigars at meetings. But I despair of re-explaining this stuff to people.

Regardless, the South African government — communist, neoliberal or otherwise — would hardly be amenable to saying hasta la vista to an entire fucking province, would they?

If federalism doesnt work, then the Cape should be ready and willing to go it alone,said Miller.

Okay, so off the Western Cape saunters into one of its Instagrammable sunsets. But it doesnt sound like Millers version of the province would be a particularly welcoming place. As noted, some of the rhetoric in the manifesto and on their Twitter account smacks of white right-wing ethno-nationalism. Would an independent Western Cape, in other words, remain as hostile to genuine integration as the current version?

No,” says Miller. You cant say that Catalonia, Brexit, or Italy are the results of white nationalism.”

Wait, say what? Earlier, Miller had name-checked Poland and Hungary as inspirations. Certainly you could argue that all of those movements, barring Catalonia, were premised on antipathy to immigration, could you not?

No, I would say it was largely the austerity measures of the European Union that brought all of this on. When you reference Bannon — no, I think thats missing the point of what’s happening in the world. I dont think it has anything to do with race, as youre implying. People are sick and tired of politicians centralising power into their own hands, and wanting to bring power back into their own communities.

Which is presumably why the Cape Party advocates for a Swiss-style canton system that devolves power down to the citizen. Direct democracy, as this is often called, is based on referendums and recalls that allow citizens to have a say on the introduction of even minor legislation, and to remove misbehaving politicians long before an election.

The 20th century taught the world that smaller is better,reads the manifesto. Smaller states are better governed, better run, more cohesive and more accountable than larger super states which invariably fail due to their size.

This outlook would likely be attractive to many South Africans. So, why all the creepy guff about culture”?

To categorise our movement as one thing is, again, to miss the point,” says Miller. “First, it’s economic. Second, it’s about the constant attack on our identity, which is rooted in ANC policies. So, while ethnicity and language can play a role, theyre not what this is about. One of our favourite examples is Singapore. It suffered under colonialism, had unequal economic status between ethnic groups. But president Lee Kwan Yeu turned it into one of the most prosperous countries in the world. Like us, it was multiracial and multilingual, with the added baggage of a colonial past.

Helen Zille would be blushing. But didnt the writer William Gibson describe Singapore as Disneyland with the death penalty? How is it possible to mimic the results of an authoritarian regime using a direct democracy after the fashion of Switzerland?

Lee Kwan Yeu had principles and values that he guided the country with. If theres a collective will, which there is in the Western Cape, by learning from countries that got it right, we can follow those principles.

So black South Africans would be cool on the beaches, right?

Theres space for anyone in Western Cape,says Miller. We believe in meritocracy, and many people of different races have made the Cape their own. A good example of where cultures clash is when the EFF slaughtered sheep — no one who is indigenous to the Cape accepts those values. We have a common value system that would not condone that practice.

Something about faux-ritualistic animal slaughter just doesnt sit right with Miller, arbiter of Cape culture and values. And so we leave it at that.


On 2 February, President Cyril Ramaphosa Tweeted a line from the ANCs manifesto. The #PeoplesManifesto calls on all South Africans to join hands and work together to grow South Africa and make sure that our people get the best that life has to offer, he quoted.

But apparently South Africans dont want to join hands. With former president Jacob Zuma out in the political wilderness, its certainly possible that KwaZulu-Natal will drift from the ANC ambit into a breakaway faction that is Zuma-ist in sensibility. When the ANC held its birthday celebrations in that province in January, Ramaphosa — the weakest president of democratic South Africa by far — was forced to kowtow to his predecessor, effectively acknowledging the vast divisions within the party.

What does this mean? It means that Miller isnt some pseudo-revanchist throwback, whose irredentism speaks to a long-lost past. He’s the vanguard of a brave new future. Secession movements will grow in this country after the May elections, and if its not Miller — and it wont be — someone else will lead the charge. Balkanisation is the new thing, driven by economic inequality and an obsession with tribal identity that was for so long tamped down by liberal shibboleths, but now defines global politics.

Jack Miller and his ilk explain a country that divides as quickly as professions of unity are Tweeted by a president whose downfall is being plotted from within his own ranks. The meltdown is all but complete. The Cape Party helps us understand what may come next. DM


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