30 May 2014 | Jean | Original Publication: Books Live
|Tony Leon and Guest Speaker Tito Mboweni|
Opposite Mandela, by Tony Leon, was launched recently at Hyde Park Exclusive Books, with Tito Mboweni as guest speaker.
The evening began with an opening address from former Reserve Bank governor and labour minister Mboweni, who was in the headlines for withdrawing from the ANC’s list for Parliament the day before. Mboweni was there as a personal friend of Leon’s, revealing in conversation that they are in fact quite close, and that he had
even been a guest at Leon’s wedding, where he was surprised to see a glass being broken as part of the ceremony. Mboweni recalled the Democratic Party, as it was then, being known as a “Mickey Mouse party”, but also related some witty banter that passed between Nelson Mandela and Leon on that subject.
“I’ve known Tony Leon for a number of years now,” Mboweni said, “and when we were in Parliament I was minister of labour, and he was the leader of the Mickey Mouse party. In the book, you will read the story of how the ANC referred to the Democratic Party as a Mickey Mouse party, and Tony Leon’s reply was ‘Well, that comes from a Goofy party.’”
“When Tony was in hospital, Nelson Mandela went to visit him, and President Mandela knocked on the door and said: ‘Hi Mickey Mouse, it’s Goofy here!’”
“I think that summarises the spirit of the new South Africa. That we have opposing political views, but we are not enemies, and we can still have a sense of humour about our society and how it works.”
“Mickey Mouse was also allocated the position of labour spokesperson for the Democratic Party, meaning he was less opposite Mandela and more opposite me! And we had great fun, because I was determined as minister of labour to ensure that we ensure that we undo all the wrong things in the market that had been done unto us by the apartheid government. He wanted to undo the wrongs that the apartheid government had created, but from a different perspective. And that’s very important. People committed to the removal of the vestiges of apartheid, but from different perspectives. It makes for a very interesting dialogue in Parliament.”
Mboweni said he had some reservations about the title of Leon’s book, but believes it is definitely worth a read.
“Opposite Mandela. A little bit of an arrogant title. Because you really could not be opposite Madiba. But knowing Tony Leon he’s got that streak of arrogance, just like me. I’m told that I’ve got that hubris, which I deny. But I think during those early years we tried our best to weave together the different strands of politics, culture, religion and other beliefs into the rainbow nation. And I think reading the book one finds a lot of that reflected. And I think we’ll all enjoy reading Tony Leon’s book. I have no hesitation whatsoever in saying this is a great book. He’s a little bit too kind to me in the book, however.”
As he was stepping away from the podium, Mboweni seemed to recall that he was in the news, and made some short remarks about stepping down from Parliament: “Oh, by the way, you know I’m not going to Parliament [laughs]. I apologise to those who thought I was going to Parliament. I believe the task of the transformation of our country should be handled from different spheres in our society. Parliament is one of them. The private sector, academia, cultural institutions, and everywhere else. I think, when I look back, I dedicated my life since 1987 to public service. And I think I’ve done my bit. I think it’s time I found out what really makes the private sector tick.”
Leon then stepped up, talking about his relationship with Mboweni, which he says had some similarities to his relationship with Mandela, and explaining the title of the book.
“Tito Titus Mboweni has many titles, former titles, not-taken-up titles, most recently member of parliament, but as you’ve gathered from this we are actually friends, and it is in that capacity that we are both here tonight sharing a platform, as we did, and I don’t think Tito and I have ever agreed on a fundamental piece of legislation – ever. I opposed everything that he put before Parliament, but I was just a bit ahead of the game because Tito went straight from being minister of labour to being governor of the Reserve Bank, and then he suddenly discovered he had to use the interest rate to correct all the generosity he’d done through the labour legislation. And now in this third incarnation as a business mogul he has to wrestle with that unaddressed question that he raised so eloquently tonight, that of inequality.
“I’ll explain how we got to the title Opposite Mandela, apart from imbuing all that hubristic arrogance from my friend Tito over the years, but the one thing was that I discovered in my semi-retirement that I’m kind of a unifier. At my book launch in Cape Town, strange that it should be me, I found myself there with Helen Zille, Lindiwe Mazibuko and Mmusi Maimane, which was quite an interesting dynamic. I don’t know what their dynamics were like with each other, on that particular evening, but it was good to have them there.
“One of the factors that inspired my choice of speaker in the form of my friend Tito Mboweni is the relationship that I elaborate in the book with Mandela was very much the relationship I enjoyed with Tito Mboweni in his old capacity as minister of labour. I opposed every single piece of legislation he put before Parliament, not because I’m oppositional, although God knows I am I suppose, hence the title of the book, but because there was a different perspective from our side. The point about Tito was that you could have these very fundamental disagreements in Parliament, and he would invite you and the rest of the committee to his home in the Groote Schuur Estate afterwards for dinner. So you could be civil and friendly and disagree because you were involved in the same enterprise.”
Leon says he remembers the political scene as being very much concerned with taking South Africa forward, and says Mandela’s strong allegiance to the ANC never got in the way of his commitment to the country, something he regards as “true leadership”.
“We were genuinely a Mickey Mouse party in size, there were only seven of us in Parliament, out of 400. And I’m very pleased that two-sevenths is here today in the form of my very good friend and colleague Douglas Gibson. Today the Democratic Alliance has got 89 MPs in Parliament, which is pretty significant growth. There were about 57 when I departed.
“But it was never thought it was about the ANC and the DA, it was about what you could do for the country. And one of the things I reflect on in this book was that at critical moments Nelson Mandela put the country ahead of the party. The other thing is that Mandela was one of the most seriously partisan politicians. He wasn’t born ANC, because he was born in 1918 and the ANC was formed only six years or so before that, but he joined the ANC in his young adulthood and he died a sworn, true, loyal ANC member. But that didn’t mean he always did things that the ANC agreed with. And by going against that party brain he helped take this country forward. Of course sometimes going with the party also took it forward. I think that is the gift of true leadership.”
• Leon is the author of Opposite Mandela (Jonathan Ball) Follow him on Twitter: @TonyLeonSA OR on Facebook: facebook.com/TonyLeonSA