DA leader Helen Zille is insisting that there was not just one funder who had "secretly" brokered the merger between her party and Agang SA.
There was no one mysterious funder who forced Mamphela Ramphele into partnering with the Democratic Alliance (DA), the party's leader Helen Zille has said. It was all of them.
And, she claims, Ramphele's plan was to "take the money and duck".
The New Age reported on Wednesday that, according to Ramphele, there was a particular donor who "pushed the DA and Agang together". The meeting apparently happened in January in London.
Zille responded to the report in an interview on 702, sparking reports that she knew the identity of the donor.
But Zille told the Mail & Guardian on Thursday that her source was someone in donor circles, who knew of the meeting, and that all the funders told Ramphele the same thing: "They would not fund Agang unless she joined up with the DA."
"When she came back from London and still no one wanted to fund her, she was absolutely desperate – and knew Agang would collapse before the election if she did not join with us – and if she was not prepared to fund the campaign with her own resources.
"So that is what motivated her to reopen the talks with us. Looking back I think she wanted to take the money and duck."
That damning allegation has been echoed by a source close to the process of initially getting Ramphele into politics.
"Apparently she got the money on the basis that she was going to join the DA and she paid Agang's debts and then she changed her mind," the source said.
But Agang chief operating officer Andrew Gasnolar denied the claims. "That isn't true. No money exchanged hands, and no deal was brokered. There definitely wasn't any person or entity forcing us into any arrangements."
Ramphele was not available for comment.
Meanwhile, sources in Agang said the party was flooded with support from DA donors after the announcement of their partnership last week, but these have dried up since the deal was scuppered.
"After the announcement that Ramphele would run as the DA's presidential candidate we had many DA funders contact us," an insider at the top of Agang SA told the M&G. "They were very energised about Agang and wanted to support us."
They weren't the only ones.
"Media outlets who are more sympathetic to the DA were suddenly hounding us – your Huisgenoots and so on. Since then they have obviously gone quiet."
The DA said it had emerged relatively unscathed in terms of funding and sources in the main opposition said party leader Zille and her protégé Mmusi Maimane received a standing ovation at a packed donor dinner at the Johannesburg City Hall on Tuesday night.
Agang says its pre-existing donors had stuck with them.
"They're mostly South Africans living here and abroad," said the insider, rubbishing rumours of international forces manipulating South African politics.
"We've been honest with them, and they've been surprisingly receptive, wanting to know what the way forward was."
Other sources who were closely involved in the setting up of Agang said their funders included one of South Africa's wealthiest familes, the Oppenheimers, as well as a wealthy Chinese businessman based in South Africa.
The Daily Maverick reported this week that Agang secured R1-million from a local banking executive, around R50 000 from a local wine producer, and other potential donors offered services in kind.
The party said it could not comment on donor details.
The future of both parties is still up in the air. Ramphele has been careful to leave the door open for further collaboration after the 2014 national elections, but Zille seems less that enamoured with the prospect, as do Agang party members, several of whom said they would be against the move.
But the parties may have no choice as far as Gauteng is concerned.
"If there are opportunities like in Gauteng where the ANC falls below 50% and it could lead to a major coalition government, there would be a possibility of collaboration between Agang and the DA," said a DA insider.
SA bucks transparency trend
South Africa is a laggard as far as democratic norms go with regard to financing for political parties – an activity that is largely shrouded in secrecy, experts say.
The debate over the role of funders in South Africa’s politics has been reignited after the failed Agang SA/Democratiac Alliance (DA) deal, given that South Africa bucks the international trend for transparency, and has a vacuum of legislation regulating the funding of political parties.
"On abuse of state resources, South Africa lags behind," said Mustaq Moorad, the regional director for Africa and the Middle East of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, which has conducted comprehensive research on the subject.
Out of 116 countries studied, 100 have banned state resources from being given to parties. South Africa isn't one of them, and we’re among the worst on the continent as far as the lack of legislation is concerned.
"In Africa, South Africa is among 10% of countries that do not have a ban on state resources being given to or received by political parties or candidates," said Moorad.
Nor does South Africa ban donations from corporations with government contracts, or state resources being used for a particular party – think of the ANC's infamous food parcels or the DA's rebranding of the Western Cape provincial government in blue and white, colours similar to those of the party.
The Independent Electoral Commission's chief electoral officer, Mosotho Moepya, said the country's Electoral Act had been amended many times and the IEC or a political party could suggest a change.
"Every election, we have what we call debriefing sessions with our staff on what worked well or not and what could change next time. We do that with political parties too, as well as observers and civil society,” he said.
But he acknowledged that it wouldn't be in the interest of political parties to pass such changes into law.
The IEC has traditionally shied away from the sensitive area of political funding, though Moepya denies the charge. The commission is currently grappling with a complaint about Gauteng provincial government billboards in ANC colours.
An Agang insider said the party wanted to be transparent about its donors, but a "culture of fear" stopped it from doing so.
"A wealthy KwaZulu-Natal businessman gave us a substantial donation and begged us not to let the ANC find out, as it would affect his business in the province," he said.
The DA has previously stated the same reason for failing to release its own donor identities, saying it would do so if all parties did.
University of Cape Town law professor Richard Calland said there was a gap in regulation, but it was unlikely to change.
"There is very little incentive at the moment to change that regime or the lack of transparency," he said.
In 2005, the now defunct Institute for Democracy in South Africa went the court route to try to force parties to reveal their funders. The court ruled against the application, which was brought under the Promotion of Access to Information Act, and it ended there.