Johannesburg - DA leader Helen Zille said she would take “full responsibility” for the party’s ill-fated deal to make AgangSA leader Mamphela Ramphele the DA’s presidential candidate.
Zille and Ramphele held separate media briefings on Monday morning when they confirmed that the deal, touted as a “historical” development to realign South Africa’s politics, was dead.
Ramphele apologised for the unhappiness caused by her decision not to stand as the DA’s candidate, but said she had made the right decision.
At her press conference in Joburg, Zille said the deal was “not rushed” while Ramphele insisted there had not been enough time to iron out the details.
Zille said she would take “full responsibility” for the failed agreement. “Sometimes a risk works, sometimes it doesn’t,” she said.
“Sometimes in politics you have to take a risk. This was a calculated risk. Sometimes a risk works, sometimes it doesn’t,” Zille said.
“A mistake is very rarely fatal. You have to admit it was a mistake, cut your losses and move on.”
She said her friendship with Ramphele had taken a "very bad knock".
Meanwhile earlier on Monday Ramphele the partnership between the DA and Agang SA fell apart because the details were not ironed out.
"What we have run into are difficulties of not having given the technical committee that we announced last Tuesday the time to work out the details," she told reporters in Joburg.
"It becomes difficult when you still have to consult with your members, which I had in fact committed to."
Making a firm commitment to the DA would have been seen as being disrespectful to Agang members.
Ramphele pointed out that Agang's interim constitution prohibited dual political party membership and that a merger with another party could only be done through a national congress or if the national leadership council met with 20 members in good standing to discuss the decision.
Last week, Zille, flanked by Ramphele, announced that the Agang founder would be the DA's presidential candidate in this year's elections and that there were plans to merge the two parties.
However, confusion arose on Friday over Ramphele's joining the DA.
According to a joint statement issued by Ramphele and Zille on Friday, Ramphele would be welcomed into the DA at a press conference in Joburg on Monday.
After it was issued, a message from Ramphele was uploaded onto AgangSA's website.
"You may have by now seen 'joint' statements issued by the DA in which it is claimed that I will be accepting DA membership on Monday," she said.
"This is not true. Nor did I agree to any such statement. It is AgangSA's position that the technical committee must first complete its work. I am leader of Agang SA, and Agang SA will continue its work to restore the promise of our freedom."
She said on Monday that there had not been enough time for the nuts and bolts to be resolved through the technical committee. And she added that she had to listen to AgangSA members.
“There are millions of South Africans who will not vote for the DA,” Ramphele said. “Our joint mistake was to hope what so many mistrusted would magically disappear.”
Ramphele also said her decision to turn her back on the deal was the right one. “I believed that we had the opportunity to transcend party politics and engage South Africans in a conversation about the future,” she said.
“The last week has demonstrated that, for some, this new way of thinking about our future will be hard to achieve right now.”
Ramphele said the decision to accept nomination to be the DA's presidential candidate was a rushed one.
However, she did not believe the decision had hurt her credibility.
Zille said she started getting worried about Ramphele's commitment on Tuesday before a news conference to announce the party's new presidential candidate.
This was because Ramphele said she had wanted to rewrite the media statement to say she would remain the leader of her own party.
Zille said she wanted to call the news conference off, but Ramphele insisted on going ahead with it.
She said Ramphele's proposal to retain her position as AgangSA leader while being DA presidential candidate was nonsensical.
"I said (to her) 'that can't happen... It's electoral nonsense'," she said.
"It is unconstitutional... And it would entirely confuse our voters."
Zille said Ramphele had been in discussion about uniting with the DA for "a very long time".
"She put on a lot of pressure to make that move."
Analysts and political commentators agreed Ramphele joining the DA was more about that party’s drive to reposition itself as a party for everyone, not just minorities or the wealthy.
And while Ramphele is a high-profile black woman leader with anti-apartheid credentials, analysts also doubted whether she would bring numbers to the DA as she did not have a clear constituency.
“Being black in South African politics today is a powerful message, but Dr Ramphele has been a leader in many, many institutions; she has a worldwide reputation as an academic, a doctor and a manager. She is also black and that is a very powerful combination,” Zille said, in response to a question as to why it was Ramphele who was approached.
“If Ramphele was only black… she would not have been under consideration. It was the combination which was important.”
DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko and DA Gauteng DA candidate Mmusi Maimane agreed it was not about race, but building diversity and commitment.
“This wasn’t just about having a black leader… It’s about being a black leader in a party which has had a certain (reputation) and is building diversity,” said Mazibuko, adding “we have more black supporters” than any other political party, except the governing party.
Senior DA leader Athol Trollip on Monday morning said he had voted against the DA’s decision to give Ramphele the position of its presidential candidate.
Trollip, the leader of the DA in the Eastern Cape, revealed this in an interview with Eusebius McKaiser on Gauteng’s Power FM on Monday.
“Yes, I did vote against the decision to give Mamphela the position of presidential candidate,” he told McKaiser.
He said while it was important for the party to “make place” for black African leaders, “we must grow our own timber. Not parachute people in”. Trollip said he did not think it was necessary for the next leader of the DA to be a black African.
“(The DA has) to convince people you can be white and care for them. (So no need for deliberate black candidates.)”
Trollip said Zille had been “pushing for realignment for a while. So maybe that is why others voted for this decision”. He also said that Ramphele’s “naivety in politics” had been exposed, as AgangSA’s rank and file members had not been consulted about her being put forward as the DA’s presidential candidate, and Ramphele “then flip-flopped”.
Political Bureau and Sapa