No deal: How Mamphela Ramphele dumped Helen Zille

Inside the collapse of talks between Zille and Ramphele.

City Press can reveal that DA leader Helen Zille was prepared to stand down as party leader and campaign for Dr Mamphela Ramphele to become leader of a new party called The Democrats.

But after a series of meetings that started in August last year involving senior DA leaders and Ramphele’s lieutenants – including former president Thabo Mbeki’s brother, Moeletsi – negotiations broke down and Ramphele decided to form “political platform” Agang.

The two parties will now probably contest next year’s general elections separately.

City Press interviewed four role players who, between them, attended a series of formal meetings between the two groupings.

They all confirmed the series of events, backed by documents at City Press’ disposal, that led to Ramphele’s launch of Agang in February.

This lifts the veil for the first time on how it transpired that the DA and Agang came so close to an agreement, only for it to fall apart at the last minute.

At times, sparks flew. At the final meeting at Leeuwenhof, Zille’s official residence in Cape Town, racial innuendo entered the fray.

Ramphele insisted she would “not be the Dlamini family who was coming to stay with the Zille family”, adding that it might be difficult for others to understand, but DA federal chairperson Dr Wilmot James would.

City Press made several attempts to obtain comment from Agang.

Co-founder Zohra Dawood initially agreed to comment, but cancelled shortly before the interview took place.

A spokesperson said Agang would “take the story as it comes” and comment after publication.

At the Leeuwenhof meeting, Ramphele said she would “never be co-opted into the DA”.

Ten formal meetings – seven in Cape Town and three in Joburg – and many informal one-on-ones, especially between Ramphele and Zille, was what it took for the political romance to start with much promise, only to later become complicated and flounder.

By January this year, the position seemed to be that:

»?Ramphele and Zille would launch a new party, The Democrats, together at a founding congress on June 16, Youth Day, this year;

»?Ramphele was going to be nominated as the leader and Zille her deputy;

»?The DA leadership would seek a mandate for these actions from its decision-making structures; and

»?Ramphele and Zille would make their joint announcement on February 12, two days before President Jacob Zuma’s state of the nation address, and then embark on countrywide consultations.

But the relationship soured in January and the plans never materialised.

The 10 formal meetings took place between August and March.

The Ramphele side originally consisted of Ramphele, Mbeki and political fundis Prince Mashele and Brutus Malada.

In January, Mashele left the group, which was joined by University of Cape Town political economist Professor Mills Soko.

The DA was represented by Zille, James, Lindiwe Mazibuko (the party’s parliamentary leader), James Selfe (chair of the federal executive) and Ryan Coetzee (chief strategist).

After Coetzee’s departure to the UK, he was replaced by DA chief executive Jonathan Moakes.

At the first meeting, Ramphele said her role had been nonpolitical, but that Zille’s persistence and discussions with the “silent politically homeless” had changed her mind and that she wanted to become involved in politics.

In what would become his consistent contribution, Mbeki said the DA’s “formidable machine” had to remain intact, and other opposition parties must have a strong and specific role.

The meeting appointed a technical team (comprising James, Coetzee, Selfe, Mbeki, Mashele and Malada), which would do much of the negotiating.

By August 31, Mashele had finalised a document called Strategic Perspective for South Africa: Repositioning the Democratic Alliance for Greater Leadership Responsibilities.

Mashele published the paper under the DA logo, which reinforced the DA’s view that Ramphele wanted to cooperate with the DA on a senior level.

The DA grew frustrated with Ramphele’s perceived unwillingness to move from broad statements to actual commitments and the last two meetings between the groups were tense.

The DA says

When approached for comment, DA leader Helen Zille reiterated that negotiations with Agang about future cooperation continued with the DA’s federal chairperson, Dr Wilmot James, as the link.

To her, the most disappointing thing about the saga was Ramphele pulling out after such protracted negotiations.

The most pleasing was the way the DA leadership worked together as one, driven by principle, and how one can count on everyone to do their bit.

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