Federalism is not Apartheid

The African National Congress (ANC) has repeatedly equated federalism, provincial autonomy, and decentralisation to Apartheid. A knee-jerk accusation that, sadly, resonates with some voters. But the truth is that federalism is not just nothing like Apartheid, it would help prevent an Apartheid system from springing up in the first place.

On 29 January, the ANC disrupted a hearing on the proposed Western cape Provincial Powers Bill, accusing any devolution of powers and embracing of federalism to be supporting Apartheid. This is consistent with the ANC’s fanatical obsession with centralism and the maintaining of a unitary state – no matter how inefficient said unitary state has proven to be.

While the South African constitution enshrines federal principles, the ANC has repeatedly ignored this – stating arrogantly that SA is a unitary state and that provinces must fall in line.

In actuality, the ANC doesn’t oppose federalism because they think it’s like Apartheid. Rather, the ANC just wants total control over the country. But it still makes the claim that federalism is the same as Apartheid. So, it is important to debunk this claim.

Apartheid was a collection of racist laws that, on a grand scale, relegated people of different races to different areas. Black South Africans were made to inhabit specific bantustans, which were governed by semi-autonomous authorities. Many of these bantustans still exist to this day, with traditional leaders still denying rights to black South Africans.

While these bantustans had their own separate leaderships on paper, they were effectively puppets of the Apartheid government, and still had to abide by laws set by the government. In so-called black areas, the Apartheid government even owned nationalised liquor breweries and bars. Local governments had zero substantive say over their decisions.

Apartheid saw impoverished zones being controlled by a central government. Not local rule. It is more accurately seen as a form of internal colonialism.

People think that the English meaning of Apartheid — Separate Development — must refer to any form of decentralisation. But Apartheid in no way resembled federalism. In fact, the National Party themselves were avowed centralists, supporting a unitary state throughout their governance. A view very similar to the ANC’s.

What is Federalism?

Federalism is not a top-down authoritarian system like Apartheid. If Apartheid had been federalist, then the National Party would have had zero say over the governance of the bantustans. And if South Africa had been federalist, then Apartheid would have unlikely been allowed to happen in the first place.

Federalism is a system where provinces and local areas are able to govern their own affairs, while still being represented by a central government. The United States is a federal country, with states having their own police forces, legislation, and ability to govern their own affairs. Only the military and some centralised agencies exist on top of this.

South Africa is a large country with a diverse population, and allowing local governments to have increased power to pass necessary legislation, get rid of irrelevant policies, and be held accountable by the local community would help lessen many of the issues plaguing the country.

In fact, the Constitution already enables provinces to act with far more power than they do currently. The ANC grandstands and complains, but the Democratic Alliance (DA) could already seize far more powers than they do currently, and they really should, because ANC influence in the Western Cape is the only real thing holding back the province from becoming a first-world locality.

It is clear that Apartheid wasn’t federal, and federalism won’t lead to Apartheid. Rather, the opposite may occur, as local governments purge their lawbooks of racist legislation like BEE and eliminate racial-quotas in government.

Federalism will equip provinces to solve their local issues and disallow a central government from imposing oppressive laws. All South Africans should rightfully support such a system.