Fire and ice

2013-05-19 14:00

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Tough talks of merger between Agang and DA reach an impasse, with party leaders going parallel, writes Jan-Jan Joubert.

Talks of a possible merger between the DA and Agang finally came to a halt at a meeting on the night of March 7 at Leeuwenhof, the official residence of Western Cape Premier Helen Zille.

Zille was late, but with everyone settled, Dr Mamphela Ramphele apologised for misunderstandings during the past year.

Agang was not a political party, it was a platform, she said.

Her adviser Mills Soko would “plug the gaps” where the DA did not have policy.

Ramphele believed Agang could reach voters the DA could not and vice versa, so working together was a good idea.

She was determined to win next year’s general elections, and wondered how the DA could assist.

Zille responded by suggesting Agang obtain some reliable, independent market research to avoid disappointment.

Ramphele became angry, saying this was in hand, and that she was not naive.

The DA’s Wilmot James thought the meeting should rather focus on what voters could expect next year.

He and DA federal executive chairperson James Selfe raised the issue of which other parties Agang was speaking to.

It transpired that Congress of the People, the IFP and the United Democratic Movement had been contacted “as part of the process of consultation”.

Ramphele said she envisaged a parallel process involving Agang and the DA, maybe converging at some point.

In so far as cooperation was concerned, she could offer experts at the top of their game, whereas the DA had an efficient machine, though not as efficient as the DA might think.

She believed Agang had reached where the DA had not.

Ramphele said Agang believed it was possible to win, even if the DA did not. She asked what kind of cooperation the DA wanted.

Zille asked what Ramphele was putting on the table. Ramphele said she wasn’t putting anything on the table – it was up to the DA to say what it wanted.

Zille said the DA’s proposal had been developed over months, and had been rejected by Ramphele, who got angry.

She said she had never been prepared to be ­co-opted into the DA. She had only agreed to the original policy document.

Selfe pointed out the original policy document, from the Ramphele group, had a DA logo on its cover.

Zille said, as late as January?10, the plan was that she and Ramphele would have jointly announced a new party, and DA decision-making structures’ meetings had been moved at great financial cost, yet on January 24 Ramphele had decided the deal was off.

Perhaps the two sides should reconnect and reconsider in six months’ time, Zille said.

An angry Ramphele said this was “unhelpful”. People should “watch what they say”.

She was “not the Dlamini family who was coming to stay with the Zille family, and would thereby lose their identity”.

She said it was an emotional issue which many might struggle to understand, but which James would understand.

Ramphele declared herself in favour of coalitions, which Zille said could be concluded after elections. James asked Ramphele what she meant, and she restated Moeletsi Mbeki’s idea of one opposition party per province.

Zille made it clear that the DA did not regard any voter as unreachable. Ramphele disputed this, stating there are voters with whom the DA would never connect.

It was decided that discussions would continue. Soko said although the meeting had been tough, he believed both sides had a better idea of their differences.

Ramphele and Soko then left.

How Ramphele went her own way

Meeting 1

Venue: Villa Belmonte, Cape Town

Date: August 18 2012

Present: Dr Mamphela Ramphele, Moeletsi Mbeki, Prince Mashele, Helen Zille, Wilmot James, Lindiwe Mazibuko, Ryan Coetzee, James Selfe.

Ramphele says her role had been a non-political one, but that Zille’s persistence had changed her mind and that she needed to become involved in politics.

She had had discussions, including with a group representing the “silent politically homeless”.

There was “a massive failure of leadership in South Africa, and this creates a ground-breaking rupture”.

In what would become his refrain, Mbeki wondered where other parties would fit into the venture.

He accepted that the DA has a formidable machine.

Coetzee suggested the common vision could be anchored on constitutionalism, non-racialism and a free, opportunity-based economy.

A technical team consisting of James, Coetzee, Selfe, Mbeki, Mashele and Brutus Malada was formed, with Selfe and Mashele as contact persons, to work out the practicalities.

Meeting 2

Venue: Fire&Ice Hotel, Cape Town

Date: August 31 2012

Present: Mbeki, Mashele, Selfe, Coetzee

Mashele tabled a document called “Strategic perspective for South Africa: Repositioning the Democratic Alliance for greater leadership responsibilities” on behalf of the Ramphele grouping.

Its front page contained a DA logo, which underscored the DA perspective that Ramphele would join up with the DA.

It was agreed Coetzee would shorten and edit the document.

Meeting 3

Venue: OR Tambo Protea Hotel, Johannesburg

Date: October 11 2012

Present: Mbeki, Mashele, Malada, James, Selfe, Jonathan Moakes

This meeting was somewhat messy, with much criticism of Coetzee’s document.

Mashele said it needed to talk to the experience of colonialism and imperialism.

There was a danger of typecasting the DA into an oppositional role.

Its achievements in government should be highlighted.

Stronger language was needed, Mashele said – the ANC had taken South Africa down a descent to a holocaust.

Importantly, Mashele stated “when we join the party, we cannot be co-opted into the DA’s perspective”.

Technical discussions on movement from the DA to a new party followed.

Selfe summarised the discussion in a document called “Integration into the Democratic Alliance”.

Meeting 4

Venue: Villa Belmonte, Kaapstad

Date: October 26 2012

Present: Ramphele, Mbeki, Mashele, Zille, James, Mazibuko, Moakes, Selfe.

Ramphele stressed the importance of the events at Marikana for South Africa – “never again business as usual”.

She welcomed Zille’s policy speech to the Cape Town Press Club, which had made much impact.

There must be no ganging up on the ANC.

Realignment must be based on principle.

Zille proposed a new party be founded, premised on consitutionalism and the rule of law; non-racialism; jobs, growth and redress through growth; the separation of party and state; and the creation of a caring state.

Such a party could be founded in February (2013), with a founding congress on June 16.

Zille believes Ramphele’s commitment could be a “stereotype-changing moment”.

The technical team was mandated to continue their work.

Meeting 5

Venue: Johannesburg

Date: November 1 and 2 2012

Present: Mbeki, Mashele, Selfe, Moakes

This meeting set the tone for the rest of the process.

It represents the first sharp differences regarding an option for the Ramphele grouping to go it alone if not suitably accommodated.

Mbeki stressed that the DA had important assets and could not just expect to go out of business – a point Selfe stressed repeatedly as the process continued.

The DA team’s preference was that the Ramphele grouping join up with the DA. Mbeki’s preference was a coalition of opposition parties, contesting under a single party’s banner in each province (the DA in the Western Cape, the UDM in the Eastern Cape, the IFP in KZN, etc.)

The remaining options were to form a new party or to go it alone and form a pact after the election.

The technical team decided to propose that a new party, “The Democrats”, be launched on June 16, 2013, if agreement could be reached on policy and principles.

If not, the elections would be fought separately, with negotiations after the results are known.

The DA grouping stressed that the DA can only be disbanded by a two thirds majority of its federal congress.

Selfe summed up the discussions in a document Mashele endorsed, albeit with minor changes.

Meeting 6

Venue: Villa Belmonte, Cape Town

Date: November 11 2012

Present: Ramphele, Mbeki, Mashele, Zille, James, Mazibuko, Moakes, Selfe.

This was not a happy meeting.

Mashele listed the four options discussed by the technical team at meeting five.

All options were rejected.

Nevertheless, a decision was taken to continue the process.

Mashele and Malada attended the DA congress in Boksburg on November 24 and 25, as observers.

Meeting 7

Venue: Johannesburg

Date: December 6 2012

Present: Selfe, Moakes, Mashele, Malada

Selfe and Moakes said the vote of two-thirds at a DA federal congress – needed to disband the DA – would not be obtained.

The DA would therefore not disband, and in any event, the next year could not be spent in messy internal processes instead of taking on the ANC.

A new party name, logo and leadership was very much on the cards, but dissolving the DA could not happen.

Mashele said all options should be kept open, and the DA machine should remain intact.

Selfe and Mashele would stay in contact.

Meeting 8

Venue: Cape Town International Airport

Date: December 27 2012

Present: Mashele and Selfe

Mashele said he had not discussed the most recent document with the rest of the Ramphele group, but that he felt sufficiently attuned to their views to claim they would agree with 99% of it.

He believes the DA machine should remain intact and that Moakes should continue as CEO.

He believes the DA should disband because an alternative to the ANC could not succeed if it is perceived to be the DA in different name.

Selfe stressed that the DA could not just disband, because amongst other things all its MPs, MPLs and councillors would automatically be unseated.

The Ramphele group had not realised this fact.

He also restated that a year could not be wasted on messy internal battles.

Selfe and Mashele agreed to meet again around January 14 to agree on modalities.

Selfe also stressed that the DA could not agree to Mbeki’s idea of regional opposition because that would negatively affect DA voters’ turnout.

According to Mashele, only Mbeki was in favour of such a regional opposition plan, but he kept offering the idea despite it being rejected a number of times.

After this meeting, contact stalled because Mashele left the Ramphele grouping and was replaced by Mills Soko.

Meeting 9

Venue: Leeuwenhof (Zille’s official residence), Cape Town

Date: January 21 2013

Present: Ramphele, Mbeki, Soko, Zille, James, Mazibuko, Moakes, Selfe.

At this meeting, things went awry. Ramphele started by apologising for all the delays and misunderstandings.

She confirmed that Soko had replaced Mashele in her group. According to Ramphele, she was consulting with a constituency “that is difficult for the DA to reach”.

Something new needed to be created, “using the DA as leverage”.

She was unaware of any agreements between Selfe and Mashele.

She still had to do some consultations but would be finished soon.

The DA group asked to caucus.

It was felt the decision-making structures of the DA could not be presented with the vague generalities Ramphele had voiced as an option for the DA’s future.

A firm, agreed document was needed, which could only be forthcoming once Ramphele had finished her consultations.

A financially expensive decision was taken to move the dates of the DA federal council and federal executive meetings to accommodate Ramphele before she makes her announcement (which would possibly have been a joint announcement with Zille) on February 12 (as Ramphele’s plan then stood).

This was conveyed to Ramphele, who expressed gratitude. She said Soko would finalise the agreements (this never happened). She also said the project was “definitely on”.

On February 17 Ramphele visited Zille at Leeuwenhof to inform her that she would announce the launch of her new movement, Agang, on 18 February.

Meeting 10

Venue: Leeuwenhof, Cape Town

Date: March 7 2013

Present: Ramphele, Mbeki, Soko, Zille, James, Mazibuko, Moakes, Selfe.

This meeting was tough, with Ramphele becoming very angry at times. It was decided contact would continue, with James as the point man for the DA.

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