Johannesburg - Former political friends Helen Zille and Mamphela Ramphele played a blame game on Monday, offering different reasons for their political break-up.
The partnership between the Democratic Alliance and Agang SA leaders lasted less than a week.
Briefing journalists, Zille put the blame squarely on Ramphele, who, at a separate press briefing, blamed party politics.
Zille said it would have been impossible to meet Ramphele's demand that she simultaneously lead Agang SA and be the DA's presidential candidate. She described Ramphele's proposal as “electoral nonsense”, “unconstitutional” and confusing to voters.
Ramphele said: “Some cannot or will not transcend party politics. The time for this was not right. We see people trapped in old-style race-based politics.”
Ramphele said the technicalities of the merger were not ironed out properly.
“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. It becomes difficult when you still have to consult with your members, which I had in fact committed to,” Ramphele said.
She said the decision to become the DA's presidential candidate was rushed into. Zille, however, denied this, saying that Ramphele had been in talks with the DA since 2010. She said Ramphele recently put pressure on the DA to make the partnership a reality.
“We worked very hard to get this together over a very long period of time. It didn't happen in a week, I can assure you. It was a risk, and in politics one has to be prepared to take calculated risks,” she said.
Zille, flanked by Ramphele, announced on Tuesday that the Agang founder would be the DA's presidential candidate.
Ramphele explained on Monday that she insisted on making the announcement because there had been leaks to the media the weekend before.
“I thought it was in the interest of both parties and the country to say we are talking about a partnership between the DA and Agang and there is an offer on the table.”
Zille said she “got a terrible fright” when Ramphele claimed she had not agreed to the contents of the joint statement. She said her friendship with Ramphele had taken a “very bad knock”.
She wanted to call Tuesday's news conference off, but went ahead with it on Ramphele's insistence.
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.
Making a firm commitment to the DA would have been disrespectful to Agang members, she said.
The DA announced on Sunday that Ramphele had reneged on her agreement with the party to be its presidential candidate. Zille accused Ramphele of playing a game of cat and mouse. The DA denied that it had wanted Ramphele as the face of its electoral campaign merely because of her race. Ramphele had an international reputation as an academic and a manager and an impeccable struggle record, Zille said.
DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko said: “It's not just about having a black leader in politics. We have more black supporters than any other party, except the ANC, today.”
Zille said if the merger with Agang had been successful, it would have been a significant step for the DA. The party had yet to decide, through its federal executive, who its new presidential candidate would be.
Both parties reaffirmed their commitment to fighting the ruling African National Congress in the general elections.
Ramphele said people were “bulldozed” into voting for the ANC in 2009.
“...People were bulldozed through food parcels and threats (of) not getting jobs, not getting RDP houses, to vote for the ANC, which is clearly corrupt. We remain a trustworthy alternative to those people.”
The DA said it was the only viable alternative to the ANC and that South Africa was in a “race against time to save our democracy”.
“We need to take bold moves (to show voters that) it's okay to vote DA. In fact, it's essential to our democracy.”