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Zille: Ramphele was a ‘risk worth taking’

While Agang SA leader Mamphela Ramphele maintained her failed partnership with the Democratic Alliance had "fallen victim to party politics", DA leader Helen Zille took a different view, saying it was Ramphele who had reneged on the two parties' initial agreement.

Zille addressed the media on Monday in an attempt to explain why a deal for Ramphele to run as the DA's presidential candidate fell through in less than a week.

She insisted Ramphele had initially not only agreed and indeed insisted on collapsing Agang's branches and structures into the DA, to go back on her word late last week.

Zille said she accepted full responsibility for the botched merger, and revealed the DA's federal council would now take a vote on the party's new presidential candidate.

"In politics you have to take risks. Sometimes it works, like when the Independent Democrats merged with the DA. Sometimes it doesn't work, like with Agang," she said. 

Zille remained tight-lipped on whether she would accept the presidential candidacy if nominated by the party.

"I will accept nomination where it is appropriate. I have accepted the candidacy to run for the premier position of the Western Cape,” she said.

Zille said she was the main driving force behind wanting to bring Agang into the fold, and that as the DA's leader she was accountable for that decision. She added it was a "risk worth taking" that ultimately failed.

Collapsed deal
She said the DA's leadership met with Ramphele on Friday, and a press statement was drawn up which was agreed upon by both parties.

A press briefing was due to be held on Monday welcoming Ramphele to the party along with Agang branches and members, according to DA federal chairperson Wilmot James.

But Zille said Ramphele then phoned her, complaining the DA had issued a different press statement to the one agreed upon.

Zille told Ramphele she had confused the statement with a news story published on the Citizen's website. But it was too late, and Ramphele had already issued a statement saying the DA had lied.

"I called my office and asked them to investigate. The confusion arose when the Citizen online put up [an analysis of our] statement in their own words, and she'd confused our statement with the article online.

"By then she'd already put up a statement on her Facebook page, and I said this wasn't on, we have to act with integrity," Zille explained.

Disagreements
However, Zille revealed the problems between the two leaders had already begun a few days previously.

She said the morning before they announced that Ramphele was to run as the DA's presidential candidate, the Agang leader had tried to change the agreed statement.

Zille claimed Ramphele reneged on her initial agreement that Agang's structures, branches and members would join the DA. The two leaders met, and Zille told Ramphele she would cancel the press conference and was prepared to have a "few minutes' embarrassment" in order to clarify the terms of the agreement.

Zille insisted it was Ramphele who had initially insisted on incorporating Agang in its totality into the DA during negotiations in November.

Ramphele insisted on having the press conference that day, according to Zille, and the two duly made the announcement.

'Not rushed'
Negotiations with Ramphele had begun in 2010, she added, and the decision to bring Ramphele on board was not rushed.

However, Zille said she felt a sense of urgency in concluding the agreement, because "South Africa is in a race against time". 

This was because its independent institutions were under attack from the ANC, and so she took a "principled" view, that the DA-Agang negotiations had to be fast-tracked. 

Zille was asked whether the initial decision to punt Ramphele as the DA's presidential candidate amounted to parachuting a black leader to a senior position.

She admitted Ramphele's race was a factor, but it would have been meaningless were it not for her other attributes such as her reputation as a global leader. 

DA federal chairperson Wilmot James said the party would now accept that it had made a mistake and move on in preparations for the forthcoming elections.

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Sarah Evans
Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans interned at the Diamond Fields Advertiser in Kimberley for three years before completing an internship at the Mail & Guardian Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane). She went on to work as a Mail & Guardian news reporter with areas of interest including crime, law, governance and the nexus between business and politics. 

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