Yes, it’s a party. No, there’s no leader – yet

The leaders of the three white parliamentary parties to the left of the government emerged late yesterday from day-long talks having made progress towards forming a new party. However, problems still remain. The Progressive Federal Party, the National Democratic Movement and the Independent Party issued a three­page statement setting out substantial agreement in principle on the new party. They said they were more convinced than ever that there was a firm basis for forming a new party. They formed a steering committee, led by PFP leader Dr Zach de Beer, which will plan a founding congress, draw up a new constitution and give further attention to issues such as a name and a leader for the party.

However, the three failed to actually form a party, as had been mooted when they met last month, and did not solve the key issues of leadership and party structure. Nevertheless, the fact that the talks ended amicably and these issues did not cause a breakdown was reason for optimism among the participants. "I would be very surprised if the wheels came off now," PFP leader Zach de Beer said last night. "We made good progress," the NDM's Wynand Malan said. It appeared that the three leaders had managed to agree on basic principles and policies for the party -and these were set out in detail in their statement. But, in the words of one observer, the three "still have to slot a lot of people in so that they feel comfort­ able". The three entered the meeting with substantial outstanding differences, the main being over the question of leadership.

Worrall and Malan were demanding that they share the leadership, while De Beer hold the position of chair­ man. They argued that a party with PFP leadership and image would not have much prospect of attracting new members. This was unacceptable to the PFP, particularly because it felt it was bringing the most substantial party structure to the merger and therefore had a primary claim to the leadership. In the words of one PFP member, "the other two parties won't be bringing much dowry to the marriage. PFP members felt the stumbling block was "Worrall's ego" – his insistence on personal power De Beer entered the meeting pro­ posing that the issue of leadership be left to the founding congress.

However, the statement released after the meeting said the three leaders will go back to their parties to seek further mandates, on the question of leadership in particular. This was probably a reference to the need for the PFP to change its mandate, which has until now insisted on PFP leadership for the new party. It is significant that former Rapport newspaper editor Wimpie De Klerk is on the steering committee. He is being mooted by the IP and NDM as a possible compromise leader from outside of the existing parties. The three also came to agreement on the crucial question of their relationship with extra-parliamentary organisations. Their statement explicitly rejected any separation between parliamentary and extra-parliamentary politics. They said the new party would strive to gain strength in all the "organs of government" with a view to taking power eventually.  Meanwhile, it would hold talks and, if possible, create alliances with others. 

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.

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