Deadline for opposition party deal
Johannesburg - The Independent Democrats would make a decision on whether to sign unity agreements with other opposition parties within six months, it said on Saturday.
This decision was announced in a resolution issued by the party following its conference in Cape Town which was called to discuss the question of opposition unity.
"The resolution stated that "authority is granted to its National Executive Committee to pursue further deliberations with likeminded opposition parties and conclude any agreement it deems necessary within a period not exceeding 180 days from (the) date of this resolution.
The party said it noted "the combined reports of all its structures in support of its participation in the realignment of opposition politics in South Africa".
Quick but slow
Speaking earlier at the conference, Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille said the signs were good for taking the relationship between opposition parties to the next level.
The conference was also addressed by ID leader Patricia De Lille, Cope president Mosiuoa Lekota, and United Democratic Movement deputy president Ntopile Kganyago.
Zille said the parties should in their efforts at greater unity move "as quickly as possible, but as slowly as necessary".
"When you are moving beyond coalition politics to alliance politics, you have to make absolutely sure that the partners are compatible," she said.
"It is like moving from dating to marriage. It is useful to have an engagement in between, just to make sure... they are really compatible."
Differences of style
She said the parties would spend the next few months engaging in this part of the process.
"At present, the indicators are good," she said.
She said there were differences between the parties, but they were differences in emphasis, style and the issues they chose to highlight.
"These differences are not so great that they cannot be overcome. And they are not so important that they should prevent us from joining hands to save our democracy."
She said the conference would one day be seen as a key moment in South Africa's history, a "vital step" towards the fundamental realignment of the political landscape.
De Lille told the hundreds of orange-shirted ID delegates that the push for unity was not about convenience, positions or egos.
"It is about building a political force that can hold the government accountable where it really counts - at the ballot box. That for me is the outcome of the process we are starting.
"If we build this formation, formidable opposition formation, the people of South Africa will vote for it."
Some of the parties represented at the meeting had in the past exchanged harsh words at election times.
"However it is my hope that we can put all of that behind us and work together as trusted partners," she said.
Lekota said the starting point for a united opposition should be short term campaigns, such as the 2011 local government elections.
Victories there would allow them to show demonstrable service delivery to communities, which would lead to greater things.
In a video message to the conference, social commentator Mamphela Ramphele said she hoped it would mark a new beginning for opposition politics in the country.
South Africans owed it to themselves to make sure that they had strong opposition politics alongside a strong government, she said.
It was also true that monopolies in whatever form or shape were "not very good for you".
In the private sector there were monopolies overcharging people in even such basic areas as food.
"I believe that in the same way that we've got a very beady eye... making sure that private monopolies don't thrive in our economy, we have an even bigger responsibility to make sure that political monopolies don't become the norm in our democracy."