On a windy morning in Cape Town, a small group of activists distribute leaflets calling for secession.

“South Africa cannot be saved, Cape Independence is our only hope,” read the Cape Independence Party leaflets.

The group, also known as CapeXit, in reference to Britain’s exit from the European Union, is one of several campaigning for a separate state in the Western Cape region of Cape Town ahead of national and provincial elections on May 29.

Small and with little support, their project will remain a pipe dream. But analysts say the parties’ bombastic demand is symptomatic of a broader Western Cape frustration with central government, which is likely to spill over into louder calls for devolution.

“The worse the country gets, the more popular Cape independence becomes,” said CapeXit boss Jack Miller, 39.

Frustration with the ruling African National Congress (ANC), which has been accused of corruption and mismanagement, is pervasive across South Africa ahead of the elections.

Thirty years after the party came to power and the end of apartheid rule, the economy is at a standstill, unemployment is over 30 percent, poverty is widespread and crime is rampant.

Amid the general desolation, the Western Cape has earned a reputation for relatively good governance.

The province has long been led by the liberal Democratic Alliance (DA), the leading opposition party, and has an unemployment rate of 20 percent, the lowest in the country.

Of the only 38 out of 257 municipalities to receive a clean financial audit from an official regulator in 2021/2022, 21 were in the Western Cape.

In recent years, droves of wealthy, mostly white families have moved there from Johannesburg’s Gauteng, drawn by more than the province’s natural beauty.

There are fewer potholes on the roads, public schools are better and power and water infrastructure outages are less common, many say.

The population structure of the province is also different. The largest group is mixed-race people, who are known as “colored” in South Africa and most of them also describe themselves as “colored.”

White people are also overrepresented, while the opposite is true for black people, who make up the core of the ANC electorate.

With unseating the ANC looking difficult at the national level – the party is expected to fall below 50 per cent for the first time but should remain the largest group and be able to form a coalition government – some Capetonians have become convinced that they would be better off alone.

A poll commissioned last year by an independence lobby group found that 68 percent of voters in the province supported a referendum on secession and more than half would vote for it.

But the enthusiasm of the supposed separatists has yet to translate into actual votes.

While CapeXit advocates for anti-racism, it has struggled to expand beyond its predominantly white base.

“We have to free ourselves from this black government,” one party activist told AFP as he campaigned at a crossroads, before correcting himself and simply describing the ANC government as “corrupt”.

“I believe in a black, white, green, yellow, but independent province,” the 75-year-old said, adding that he was “old enough to remember white people in TV ads.”

At the intersection, some drivers stopped to pick up a leaflet. Some rolled up their windows as they saw the activists approaching.

“I don’t think it makes sense to separate the Western Cape,” said Simbarashe Milos, a 24-year-old concierge from Cape Town.

Founded in 2007, CapeXit won just two of the 231 seats on the Cape Town City Council in 2021 and barely managed to collect the 7,000 signatures needed to take part in May’s provincial election.

Its cousin, the Referendum Party, said it had collected only a slightly higher number of signatures.

Political scientist Daniel Silke rejected the idea that the separatists would win even with larger numbers.

“Constitutionally, they would not be able to force secession of the Western Cape anyway even if they achieved any position of power, which is extremely unlikely,” he said.

Meanwhile, prosecutors are pushing for greater federal autonomy rather than outright divorce.

She has tabled a proposed provincial bill aimed at giving more powers to the Western Cape. The law is currently being debated publicly, after which the ANC reacted angrily, calling it unconstitutional.

And with the DA, which has a coalition agreement with nearly a dozen other parties, looking to make gains in other provinces in May, more offers could follow.

“In a country as diverse as ours, federalism makes sense. The DA is pursuing this to the fullest extent possible,” DA leader John Steenhuisen said when introducing the bill last July.

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