Democratic Party leaders in the Western Cape, Hennie Bester and Helen Zille, were at loggerheads over Hernus Kriel joining the DP and as a result the announcement that the former Western Cape premier had joined the party was at first postponed, according to reliable sources within the party.

Zille, known to represent the liberal wing of the party, was apparently vociferously opposed to the former national police minister joining the party while Bester, the DP leader in the Western Cape, championed his cause.

Kriel, the former Western Cape premier and NP stalwart, on Wednesday announced that he had joined the DP and urged his former party's leader, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, to do the same.

Western Cape education MEC Helen Zille agreed that Kriel's decision had been preceded by "debate" and admitted she was "firmly opposed" to special deals being offered to any person.

She denied, however, that she and tourism MEC Hennie Bester had been at loggerheads on the issue, saying that they had merely debated it.

At the end of the debate about Kriel everyone had agreed that if people subscribe to the policies and principles of the party they should be allowed to join the DP.

It was on that basis that she had agreed to Kriel coming into the fold, Zille said.

Structures in the party made it impossible for leadership to intervene in favour of offering deals to any person, she added.

DP sources have speculated that Kriel will run in the local government elections, while the possibility that he will be the DP's mayoral candidate in Cape Town has been raised.

Zille said she "profoundly doubted" that any deal had been struck.

The tough-talking education MEC is said to have been opposed to the shift of NP relics to the DP. Bester could not be reached for comment.

In a coup for the DP, almost 40 NNP town and city councillors defected to the DP last week.

Stung by the poaching of his councillors, NNP leader Marthinus van Schalkwyk said that the number of DP MECs in the Western Cape government - four - would be reduced. But the DP has said the deal is non-negotiable

Van Schalkwyk and Leon were on Wednesday involved in tough tea-time talks in a bid to resolve the deadlock. Also apparently on the agenda were other thorny issues, including the DP's insistence that opposition parties fight the local government elections under its banner. The NNP has described the move as "arrogant".

Meanwhile, ANC leader in the Western Cape Ebrahim Rasool said on Wednesday that "Tony Leon's DP has become a haven for apartheid relics and those who just simply cannot stomach the need for fundamental transformation in our country".

"Kriel's call on Marthinus van Schalkwyk to also join the DP does not surprise, given that Kriel, while in the NNP, was always part of the Broederbond cabal who ultimately saw their future in a white alliance," Rasool said.

Rasool made a special appeal to the liberal community of Cape Town to break from the party which has "simply become the champion of white opposition".

Rasool said his appeal to liberals included "those who worked with us in the ECC, the Five Freedoms Forum, the Black Sash and marched with us to unban the ANC, but who may have voted for opposition parties on June 2".

And the United Democratic Movement, which has been having "constructive" talks with the DP about an election agreement, stated that it was "not in favour of a clubbing together of political parties on racial lines as this undermines the entire objective of political re-alignment", according to national spokesperson Malizole Diko.

UDM leader Bantu Holomisa had clearly stated that an arrangement with the DP for fighting the local government election, under the DP's banner, was out of the question.

The African Christian Democratic Party has also rejected an alliance with the DP.