Mamphela Ramphele and Helen Zille. Photo: Mike Hutchings

Johannesburg - South African-born billionaire Nathan “Natie” Kirsh is most probably the mystery donor who prompted AgangSA leader Mamphela Ramphele’s desperate bid to join the DA.

Speaking to The Sunday Independent on Saturday, Ramphele confirmed that Kirsh had funded AgangSA and would continue to fund the fledgling party. She said she stayed with the Kirsh family in London during a fundraising and voter-canvassing trip in the UK in the week before the DA’s federal executive meeting, which resolved to make her its presidential candidate.

The deal, which was meant to include a merger between Agang and the official opposition went sour less than a week later, resulting in a nasty political and personal fallout between Ramphele and her friend, DA leader Helen Zille.

Kirsh said he and his family were “friendly with” Ramphele, but he was cagey about confirming whether he funded AgangSA or the DA. “I’m not going to comment one way or the other.”

Zille would not confirm that Kirsh was the donor who broke the proverbial camel’s back over the past fortnight, preferring to say “there were many donors”.

She said, however, the donor was not a corporation but an individual.

Zille spoke repeatedly this week about a specific dinner party at which every donor present told Ramphele they could not support Agang because it would compete with the DA.

Zille said this week that Ramphele and Agang were in serious financial straits, but when asked to clarify she said Ramphele was “a very wealthy woman” and could personally finance her election campaign “with her eyes closed”.

The DA has declined to name any of its donors for fears of scaring off potential and current ones due to perceived political pressure from the ANC against businesses that support the opposition.

Zille kept information on the finer details of the failed Agang-DA merger and Ramphele’s funding woes confined to only a very small inner circle this week, with many prominent party members left as clueless about the deal as outsiders.As the DA goes into full campaign swing, it has to choose its next presidential candidate.

Agang has been on the back-foot as the DA spilled the beans, saying Zille and the DA were “confused” and couldn’t get their story straight.

Zille, who has been friends with Ramphele for 40 years, said she knew the former businesswoman usually stayed with friends when visiting New York or London, but did not know about her relationship with the Kirsh family.

Kirsh this weekend referred to Zille and Ramphele as “gutsy little ladies”.

“I know both of them quite well and debate with them the future of South Africa and what their role could be. But they both live in a dream world,” he said.

“I’m not into politics, but I am into South Africa and it really distresses me to see the destruction of the rule of law, which is why I funded (former prosecutor Glynnis Breytenbach). “She’s a gutsy little lady.”

The Sunday Independent previously revealed how Kirsh channelled money through the FW de Klerk Foundation to fund Breytenbach’s legal battles against the National Prosecuting Authority.

Two weeks ago the DA announced that Breytenbach was part of its secret arsenal to go to Parliament after the May general elections – something Kirsh described as an “elegant way out” of her professional battles with her former employers.

Breytenbach left the NPA this week after an internal investigation accused her of misconduct for allegedly accepting a R6.3 million donation for her legal fees from Kirsh (see article on page 5).

Another accusation is that a company owned by Kirsh loaned her and her business partner $1m. Kirsh was a complainant in a case she successfully prosecuted 10 years ago.

Meanwhile, the DA’s federal council – the party’s highest decision-making body between congresses – will be tasked with mapping out the party’s strategy to win back the trust of its supporters after the failed marriage with Agang.

The council is expected to be held next weekend in Cape Town.

Top of the agenda will be to find a presidential candidate as Zille is most likely to remain Western Cape premier candidate. The party has hardly contested elections with a presidential candidate, and mostly projects the faces of its top women leaders to reflect gender and race.

DA national spokesman Mmusi Maimane is understood to have presidential ambitions, but having been announced as the Gauteng premier candidate last year, already faces the huge dilemma of having to choose between staying in the province or going to Parliament and challenging Lindiwe Mazibuko for the parliamentary leader position.

A DA leader this week told the Sunday Independent that Maimane would not be allowed to be caucus leader in the Gauteng Legislature, and that there were proposals that he be deployed to the National Council of Provinces.

This would be a significant demotion.

Maimane is likely to be questioned about these decisions at the federal council this week.

Said one national leader who asked not to be named for fear of retribution: “He has to choose.

“He has no choice. Apparently he’s regretting accepting the premiership.”

Maimane said on Saturday: “I don’t have presidential ambitions – I have premier ambitions.”

He said it would not be difficult to choose between his positions on the national and provincial lists.

“My absolute focus is on Gauteng and winning Gauteng. I’m pro-Gauteng.”

He said he knew that if the DA did not win the premiership in the province he would have to compete with his party colleagues for the position of caucus leader in the provincial legislature.

“I’m prepared for whatever happens,” he said.

Sunday Independent