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Failed Political Marriage; Engaging with Iran; Imagine a World

Aired February 4, 2014 - 14:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

A bright new future for the South African opposition has come and gone with breathtaking speed, and with it, the first serious challenge to the ANC which has dominated politics and power in the post-apartheid era.

Today was supposed to be the day two opposition parties, the Democratic Alliance and Agang SA, embarked on their Together for Change campaign.

Just last week, the two party leaders embraced as they announced a merger that sent a shiver of excitement through the nation.

The first woman, Dr. Mamphela Ramphele, an anti-apartheid activist, a successful business woman, former World Bank official and partner of the late freedom fighter Steve Biko, also is leader of Agang SA.

The other, Helen Zille, leader of the Democratic Alliance and well known anti-apartheid journalist, who broke the news of Biko's violent death in prison.

But yesterday, excitement turned to dismay as these two old friends announced a quickie divorce. The move not only raises questions about the health of South African democracy, but also about the future of these two formidable women, who head the parties.

First, I asked Dr. Ramphele what went wrong and whether the face of South African politics will change anytime soon.


AMANPOUR: Dr. Ramphele, thank you very much for joining me.


AMANPOUR: This does not seem to be a massively auspicious moment in opposition politics in South Africa.

Indeed, the ANC, who I assume you're all trying to, you know, make inroads into, has today called what's happened between you and the DA a tragicomic melodrama.

Isn't the only winner out of this breakdown the ANC, who you're trying to whittle away their power?

RAMPHELE: Absolutely. It is a sad moment, Christiane, but the DA and Agang couldn't find a way of forging a partnership for change that we are now not choosing. And the failure is a reflection of different understandings of the opportunity.

The opportunity is that 13 million people in 2009 didn't vote for the ANC nor the DA and that Agang represents a new home, a fresh start, not tainted by the baggage of the past. That has excited many silent people in South Africa, people who had lost their voice; people who had lost hope wanted to see it.

But we failed to come to agreement about the process by which we could collaborate and address the structural issues that were involved in us working together.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you to react to what Helen Zille, head of the DA, has said.

"By going back on the deal just five days after it was announced, Ms. Ramphele has demonstrated once and for all that she cannot be trusted to see any project through to its conclusion. And this is a great pity."

And some veteran political commentators are saying that this has put a fatal blow to your political future.

How bad is this for you?

RAMPHELE: What is bad is that in the rush to conclude the deal, Helen started talking in terms of take it or leave it. You cannot negotiate on the basis of take it or leave it. People in this country put human dignity and respect for the other very high.

AMANPOUR: Do you take any blame for this divorce, this political divorce?

RAMPHELE: I take the blame for the fact that we need not come to an agreement which I regard as a great opportunity for South Africa.

But at the end of the day, leaders have to listen to their members. And in the Agang value system, I cannot bind a hand to a merger with the DA without consulting with the national leadership conference.

AMANPOUR: You keep talking about the consultations, but the real big picture is that this, many are saying, shows the failure of the opposition in general to try to --


AMANPOUR: -- do something different than have ANC in power for a long, long time.

And people are now saying it is going to take a long, long time to change the current balance of power.

RAMPHELE: We don't believe that, because we know that the ANC is the minority government. It's governing with 38 percent of the eligible vote.

We continue to believe that the ease and opportunity for us to get those people who have never voted or who don't want to vote or who will not vote for the ANC to vote for this fresh start.

And I believe that people appreciate a leader who is prepared to say I made a mistake. And I should have consulted first and then made the decision.

That I take responsibility for.

But the fact of the matter is, the country has lost an opportunity to transcend identity politics and that I'm very sad about.

AMANPOUR: And very briefly, personally, Helen Zille was a friend of yours. She was a leading anti-apartheid journalist. She wrote incredibly incisive articles about your late partner, Steve Biko.

Can you be friends still?

RAMPHELE: Yes, of course. This is not personal. This is not about - - a disagreement doesn't mean that we can't be friends. And we have left the door open.

There might still be an opportunity for the DA and Agang to work together because the country cannot afford continued fragmentation. The only winner of this identity politics crisis or press is the ANC.

AMANPOUR: Dr. Ramphele, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

RAMPHELE: Thank you, Christiane.


AMANPOUR: So will there be another chance at a partnership?

Turning right now to the Democratic Alliance, which has also taken its share of knocks for the botched merger, Lindiwe Mazibuko is the DA's parliamentary leader and she's joining me right now from Johannesburg.

Welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: Let me start by asking you, the leader of the party, Helen Zille, had called this just a week ago a game-changer, this merger. It now looks like it's anything but, that it is politics as usual and ANC monopoly and domination of politics as usual.

They're the only winners, right?

MAZIBUKO: They are the only winners if the opposition fails in the long term to realign itself in a way that will present a credible challenge to the ANC, yes.

And that was the reason, A, that the sort of game-changer and, B, that we proceeded with such vigor, because it was our best chance at accelerating the process by which an opposition government would peacefully take over at the ballot box.

So it's a real tragedy that it didn't work out because of that.

AMANPOUR: Well, you were in the negotiations. You helped put this partnership together, which is now sort of got a quickie divorce.

Is there any chance that you might do it again?

Dr. Ramphele just told me that she's holding out hope that perhaps there's another opportunity to merge in the future.

MAZIBUKO: Yes. Look, I think I -- we're politicians and we're people. And I have to say that the DA is very bruised as a result of this.

From our side, we do feel that a lot of the agreements that we made with Dr. Ramphele were reneged upon by her, that there wasn't necessarily an open card negotiation or discussion.

And in retrospect, I think the signs that this was not the same process for both sides were actually -- they started to emerge just as we were about to launch.

So it's a huge disappointment for us. And I can categorically state that it'll certainly not be in the offing in the future. We tried everything possible to respond to the South African voters' desire for a realigned opposition. We've done it with other political parties, the ID in particular. And Patricia de Lille is now the mayor of Cape Town.

But we certainly will not be pursuing this negotiation with Agang again. We really did everything in our power to make it work. But it simply was not viable.

AMANPOUR: Well, Dr. Ramphele has said that she thought she was rushed into this without being able to consult her members.

Let me ask you this, though.

Isn't this really a knock for you politically?

I mean, didn't you actually want to go after her because she's a respected black leader, because the DA, for all its black politicians, it's still considered a sort of a bastion of white interests?

Wasn't this meant to transcend that image that you have?

And where does it leave you?

MAZIBUKO: It certainly was something that we pursued because, on the one hand, Dr. Ramphele shares the liberal democratic values of our political party. It made no sense for her to be the leader of another political party.

In addition, she was actually the catalyst that led to our merger with the independent Democrats --


MAZIBUKO: -- and Patricia de Lille. So she understands the need for realignment.

And then, thirdly, she approached us. She approached us twice, once in 2011 and again at the end of last year. So we felt on our side that there was an appetite from her to actually make this happen. And it was just a question of finding the right time.

Why would she have been invaluable for the DA? Well, because unlike, you know, a number of the ANC leaders, we are not seen as a party that has leaders who are steeped in the liberation struggle.

We have many, many good liberals who participated in the fight against apartheid, in the progressive party, in the liberal parties of the predecessors of our party.

But there has yet to be somebody from outside the DA with a deep struggle history, who put their hat in with our party and say, this is a political party I can trust. I want to go into the next election with them.

We felt that that would be a game-changer because it would put to rest that fear amongst many South Africans that a party that has white leaders in it will necessarily bring us back to apartheid.

AMANPOUR: Well, that's very frank of you.

So where does that leave you now?

I mean, for instance, Dr. Ramphele has said that she believes that there are millions of South Africans who will never vote for the DA and will only vote for her party.

Are you now worried, going into the election that, again, votes will be taken away from you and, as I said, the ANC remains cemented in power, that the opposition has failed, at least for the next election cycle, to dent the ANC politically?

MAZIBUKO: I don't think that this will necessarily hamper our ability to dent the ANC. I think we were on track to make that happen, regardless of whether this merger took place. I think this merger was going to give us that much more potential.

We're also satisfied that we tried everything we could. We can -- we can never look back at this chapter and feel like we didn't do everything in our power to make this partnership work and make it happen and make it successful.

And I think that's also an important thing, that when things don't work out, you have to admit the mistakes that took place. You have to cut the losses where you can and move forward as decisively as possible. That's what we're committed to doing now.

AMANPOUR: Lindiwe Mazibuko, the DA's parliamentary leader, thank you for joining me from Johannesburg.

MAZIBUKO: Thanks very much.


AMANPOUR: So many South Africans relish the idea of a credible challenge to President Jacob Zuma and his party, charged with corruption and ineptitude. Many are also waiting for their nation's wealth of natural resources to fulfill the promise of a better life for all.

A continent away, the people of Iran are hoping that their nation's natural resources, when finally unleashed, will help them out of their economic doldrums, too.

After a break, we'll see how new relations between Tehran and the West could mean big business. An idea with a rich history because as far back as the 1700s, French king Louis XIV welcomed ambassadors from Persia, now Iran, and French merchants traded freely there.

Could that tradition be revived? We'll ask Lord Norman Lamont, Britain's former Chancellor of the Exchequer, who's just back from Tehran, with a rare souvenir: hope.





AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

Now judging by the procession of Western diplomats and business leaders who are making their way there, Tehran seems quite the place to be right now. The Swedish foreign minister, Carl Bildt, is in town today, meeting with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, discussing of course Iran's nuclear program.

And more than 100 French business executives are also having meetings there. Other European delegations are planning similar trips.

But in the United States, Congress continues to battle over new sanctions for Iran.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has joined the fray, arguing against that move now.

The chairman of the British-Iranian Chamber of Commerce, Lord Lamont, has also recently returned from Tehran. He is the former British Chancellor of the Exchequer, or finance minister, and he was part of the U.K. Parliamentary delegation that came back with strong recommendations for engagement.

So I asked him whether there are actual real hopes for a new era now.


AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program. Thanks for joining me.

LORD NORMAN LAMONT: Thank you. Delighted to be here.

AMANPOUR: This is a very important delegation that you led, along with former foreign secretary Jack Straw, the Parliamentary delegation to Tehran.

What kind of a mood did you come back with from there?

What are the current Iranian authorities thinking about rapprochement and about dealing with the West?

LAMONT: Well, to judge by ministers, all the members of the government that we met were, with one exception, extremely positive and wanted to do a deal with the West, felt that was in the interests of both parties.

But nonetheless, thought the negotiations could be very difficult. There's quite a wide gap between the two sides. And Mr. Zarif wasn't absolutely confident that that could be bridged.

But on his part, there was an awful lot of goodwill.

AMANPOUR: Hillary Clinton has written a letter that just got released or leaked, urging the Senate, her former colleagues, not to put more sanctions on Iran.

Is that what you believe, too?

LAMONT: Yes. I think it would be a disaster if the Senate put more sanctions on now for one very simple reason: the Iranians would regard the U.S. government as having broken its word. The deal is that the sanctions remain in place. There's a very small amount of interim relief.

But if the West added to the sanctions, they would say the West has drawn us to the negotiating table simply in order to make our position even worse.

So I think you would be seeing as yet another -- I say yet another because they perceive the West in the light of their own suspicions. They would see the West as having double-crossed them.

AMANPOUR: Now as all this is going on, the nuclear negotiations, so, too, is what looks to be a kind of gold rush, if I might say, by business leaders, certainly European business leaders, to Tehran.

There has been, you know, business leaders from Britain, also from France, a big delegation there right now from Germany, from the Netherlands on their way, et cetera, et cetera.

Is -- you know, is the time right?

Is it sort of like a gold rush right now for companies seeking to do business with Iran?

LAMONT: Well, there are certainly a lot of companies circling around Iran. I myself have said to companies repeatedly they have to be very careful because they have to remember that the sanctions are still in place. They can't sign any contracts without breaking the laws of individual countries, including those of the United States.

And I have warned a lot of British businessmen, just to be careful and not to get too far in. And as I understand it, the United States authorities have warned people in France with respect to this latest delegation that are going, that I think there is, having said that, enormous interest obviously in a big market like Iran opening up.

AMANPOUR: You are the former Chancellor of the Exchequer; in terms of the current economic times, this is good for the West as well?

LAMONT: Well, I think the main gain is political. I believe that a nuclear deal -- which obviously has to be one that assures Israel of its safety, one that does not alarm other states in the Gulf.


LAMONT: I believe that a deal about the nuclear is worth having because a world in which one can be reasonably sure that Iran is not seeking, has not acquired a nuclear weapon, will be a safer world.

I personally think that if there is a nuclear deal, and sanctions have been dropped, there is quite a good chance that gradually, ever so gradually, not immediately, relations between Iran and the West will improve.

AMANPOUR: You remember Lady Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, when she was prime minister, famously said of Mikhail Gorbachev to Ronald Reagan, "This is a man we can do business with."

Is that what you and Jack Straw believe about Rouhani?

LAMONT: It is what I believe about President Rouhani, who, incidentally, has a couple of degrees from a university in Scotland. So he has some knowledge of this country.

I watched a lot of his broadcasts during the Iranian election. I believe that he is sincere. I believe that he wants to make certain changes in Iran. I don't think he can make all the changes he wants unless he gets a nuclear deal.

But having said all that, as you know, the president of Iran is not the only or the most important decision-maker. And everyone we met in the political sphere emphasized to us that the deal has to be approved, not just by the government, not just by ministers, but by other -- what they call centers of power.

They said there has to be a majority of power holders in Iran. That presumably means the Supreme Leader. It means the Majlis. It means the national security council, which is -- which represents, of course, among other organizations, the Revolutionary Guard.

So there are all sorts of different interests that have to be consulted and have to give their approval.

I've been endlessly told by Iranian officials that there is a consensus at the moment between the different power centers, that it's right to negotiate, though of course some are skeptical as to whether there can be a good outcome from the negotiations.

AMANPOUR: Fascinating insight. Lord Lamont, thank you so much for joining me.

LAMONT: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: So as hope for change comes through Iran, President Rouhani has been reminded of a promise that he made at his first press conference last summer, pledging to reopen the country's press association which had been shut down by the previous government.

But almost seven months later, the association's doors remain locked. Some Iranian journalists languish in prison and others are pressing the president to make good on his promise.

Meantime back across the continent again, in Egypt, 20 journalists, as we know, have been charged with terrorism just for doing their jobs. Many of them are in prison. But they haven't been forgotten.

A silent protest that speaks volumes when we come back.





AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, it's a story that we've been covering for weeks now, 20 journalists with the Al Jazeera network charged with fabricating news stories and aiding terrorists in Egypt.

Many of them are in jail and they have been for the past 38 days. And in a new development, a Dutch journalist, Rina Netjes, has been forced to return home to the Netherlands after Egyptian authorities accused her of being part of the so-called Al Jazeera cell.

Now imagine a world where journalists throughout the globe are fighting back with this simple sign and a roll of adhesive tape, British journalists like Jonathan Miller and Lindsey Hilsum are among those taking a stand, taping their mouths shut and holding up signs with the Twitter #FreeAJStaff.

Other colleagues have also taken up the cause speaking loudly even though their mouths are taped shut, too.

One of the jailed journalists, Peter Greste, has written from Egypt's Tura Prison again, saying, quote, "Journalists are never supposed to become the story."

That, of course, is true. And that's why their colleagues continue to demand that the Egyptian authorities set them free.

That's it for our program tonight. Remember you can always contact us at our website,, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.