Signs good for opposition unity - Zille
Cape Town - The signs were good for taking the relationship between opposition parties to the next level, Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille said on Saturday.
She was speaking at what she described as a "historic" special conference of the Independent Democrats, called to discuss the question of opposition unity.
The conference, held in Cape Town, 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."
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.
A political force
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.
She said she would ask the ID delegates for a 180-day period to conclude negotiations on a new agreement.
A new beginning
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."