Friday, May 30, 2014

Tony Leon Extols Madiba’s “True Leadership” at the Launch of Opposite Mandela

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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:

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Fresh insights on Madiba

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28 May 2014 | Martin Williams | Original Publication:  The Citizen

With an abundance of material on Madiba available, it’s handy to know whether any new book about the great man offers fresh insights.

Tony Leon’s latest memoir, Opposite Mandela, does so. Leon was perfectly positioned to have a unique perspective. Not only did he become the leader of the opposition when Mandela was president, he was also MP for Houghton, where Mandela moved shortly after his release in 1990. There are other coincidences weaved into this engaging story. These include family links that connected the two to noteworthy events and personalities.

With customary chutzpah, Leon capitalised on Madiba’s presence in Houghton by delivering a chocolate cake and a hand-written invitation to attend a DA constituency report-back meeting. Although Madiba declined, he reci-procated, asking Leon “and one or two other DP chaps” around for dinner. That’s where the young MP began to learn that his host had “an almost preternatural talent for reaching out to, and charming, those outside the circle of true believers”.

All Leon’s observations about Madiba are made within the context of admiration and respect for “a leader born with a special kind of grace, who seems to transcend the politics of his age”.

Yet Leon is not shy to point out flaws. For example, he did not hold back when Mandela defended the actions of ANC members who shot and killed IFP marchers in the 1994 Shell House massacre. When the matter was raised in Parliament, Leon quoted a leaked memo showing police had been unable to investigate, as they had been denied access to the building.

Mandela later said he had personally given ANC guards the order “shoot to kill”. And he got away with it. “In this and many other judgment lapses, as I viewed them, Mandela’s Teflon coating was ultra-resilient.”

There’s also a chapter on how Leon dealt with Mandela’s invitation to join the Cabinet. Harry Oppenheimer and Bobby Godsell thought the DP should “give it a go”, but former party leaders Helen Suzman and Frederik van Zyl Slabbert advised against it.

Leon sought advice from many quarters and pondered long over the issue. With the benefit of hindsight, he says: “South Africa, today, would be less likely to have been a robust, open democracy with government held to account by an independent opposition had (Madiba’s) proposal been realised.”

Leon offers insights into other key players. During the protracted talks that preceded SA’s historic political settlement, his initial antipathy to Joe Slovo “melted as I found his sharp and cynical humour made us, across the divide of age and ideology, actually quite kindred spirits”.

Indeed, at the Hyde Park book launch last week it was pointed out that Leon was wearing red socks – a Slovo trademark. I’m not sure what we were supposed to read into that.

Leon’s clashes with Madiba’s successor, Thabo Mbeki, are legendary. However, in this volume he explains how “the Mbeki of 1994 was a much nicer person, far more approachable and accommodating”.

Throughout the book there are examples of warm, personal exchanges between Leon and Mandela. In 2002, on the veranda of Madiba’s Houghton home in front of a phalanx of reporters and photographers, the elder statesman put his arm around the shoulder of the opposition leader, declaring: “Tony Leon is a proper democrat and there should be dialogue at all levels of our country.”

Another glimpse of what we are missing.

Opposite Mandela by Tony Leon is published by Jonathan Ball. (Paperback, 243 pages, R210).



Tuesday, May 27, 2014

New speaker is not known for her impartiality

27 May 2014 | Tony Leon | Original Publication:  BDlive
If past performance is any guide to future conduct, diminished expectations are in order for the new Parliament, writes Tony Leon

Baleka Mbete, national chairwoman of the ANC
ONE of the bitchiest pieces of repartee in show business, between the acclaimed lyricist of My Fair Lady, Alan Jay Lerner, and musical supremo Andrew Lloyd Webber apparently went along the following lines: "Alan, why do people always take an instant dislike to me?" asked Lloyd Webber. "Saves time," Lerner responded.

Perhaps the fact that Baleka Mbete has a beautiful singing voice brought this conversation to mind on hearing of her recall last week to the speaker’s chair in Parliament. But more in point is that it will certainly save time and distance to bring the writ and fist of the African National Congress (ANC) and its Luthuli House headquarters to Parliament rather than the other way around.

Towards the end of the recent elections, it was reported — and not denied — that departing speaker Max Sisulu, a person of considerable standing and experience and of some independence, was "summonsed" to Luthuli House to "explain himself" in regard to his acquiescence to an opposition request that an ad hoc committee be appointed to determine Parliament’s response to the public protector’s report on Nkandla.

According to the constitution, the National Assembly over which the speaker presides is charged with "providing a national forum for public consideration of issues" and "scrutinising and overseeing executive action".

Yet Mbete is deeply conflicted from the start: she intends to be both national chairwoman of the ANC and speaker of the National Assembly. In the new Parliament, more than a dozen non-ANC parties seek the protection of the speaker to advance their interests and rights and to hold the very executive, of whose inner councils she is such a leading member, to account. Don’t expect too much scrutiny and oversight on her watch.

But then, for Mbete, this is all rather familiar territory. Before she had risen to the very apex of power in the ruling party, she presided as speaker of Parliament from 2004 until 2008. Yet, ironically, although Mbete joined in the party firing squad that politically assassinated Thabo Mbeki, she also helped his presidency close down Parliament as a centre of rigorous political contestation and scrutinising the executive.

I recall, in the first iteration of Mbete’s speakership, that she was summoned to the post as a sudden and unexplained replacement for the serving speaker, Frene Ginwala. Ginwala had provided Parliament with some lustre, and aside from her involvement in the parliamentary cover-up of the arms deal scandal, proved to be fairly independent. She later advised that she first heard of her axing on the radio, en route to a caucus meeting.

Helen Suzman, described by the man after whom the ANC headquarters are named, Chief Albert Luthuli, as "a bright star in a dark chamber", recalled that her impressive solo performance in the apartheid Parliament was made possible only by the impeccable behaviour and protection she received from the arch-conservative speaker, Henning Klopper. As she put it: "Our political convictions were miles apart. (But) he used to say to me at the beginning of each session: ‘I don’t agree with a word you say, Helen, but it is your right to say it and it is my duty to see that you enjoy that right’ — and he certainly did!"

Ironically, although there are now 88 more voices in Parliament echoing some of the sentiments once articulated alone by Suzman, they should not, all these decades later and even under a democratic constitution, expect such consideration as she enjoyed.

Two clues, of many that Mbete’s previous speakership salted back then, are hardly encouraging for the new Parliament. In September 2007, the nation was transfixed on the state of, and circumstances surrounding, the new liver acquired by then health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. The Sunday Times then revealed that she had been convicted of theft in 1976 while employed at a hospital in Botswana. An intrepid parliamentary colleague, Mike Waters, asked a written parliamentary question: had she ever disclosed this conviction to Mbeki? Less than an hour before the question was due to be answered in Parliament, Waters received a call from Mbete’s office advising him that the speaker had ruled the question "out of order" for containing "offensive and unbecoming language" in transgression of Parliament’s rules. When Waters stood up in Parliament to protest that the speaker was "covering up for a thief", he was suspended for five days from the house.

But it was also during Mbete’s first speakership that thievery caught hold of Parliament itself, which was defrauded of more than R36m of public money, when hundreds of MPs were investigated in the "Travelgate" scandal. In contrast with the speed with which Mbete acted against Waters, the investigation of this great stain on her watch was characterised by foot-dragging and worse.

If past performance is any guide in these matters to future conduct, diminished expectations are in order for the new Parliament.

Leon is the author of Opposite Mandela (Jonathan Ball) Follow him on Twitter: @TonyLeonSA OR on Facebook:



Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Don’t feed a gossip fire, try to starve it of oxygen

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20 May 2014 | Tony Leon | Original Publication:  BDlive

The furious pushback by the DA does not advance the party’s cause or the interests of its voters who so recently placed 4-million votes behind it, writes Tony Leon

THE Saturday morning after the 2004 election results were posted, I was rather tired and was enjoying an unaccustomed lie-in.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) had — in the teeth of the fiercest opposition infighting, the newly arrived Independent Democrats on its left, the vengeful New National Party on its right, and the huge African National Congress everywhere else — posted a creditable result and increased its support from five years earlier.

Any relief I felt evaporated when I reached the op-ed page of the Weekend Argus. It was dominated by an article under a large headline saying "Tony Leon must go". I seethed with indignation at its unfairness, especially when the article quoted several unnamed "party sources and insiders" who had fed this particular narrative, suggesting the party had reached the end of its road under my leadership. I was tempted to dash off an immediate response.

Before I reacted in fury, I sought the counsel of two people I could rely on for unvarnished advice, chief whip Douglas Gibson and strategist Ryan Coetzee. Both provided a context to the article and stayed my hand. Gibson, not for the first time, counselled: "Don’t feed a fire started by others, it will only spread; better, starve it of oxygen."

Coetzee pointed out that the two journalists, pens dipped in a combination of bile and vitriol, were "deeply embedded in the African National Congress (ANC)". I took their advice and someone lower down the party food chain was deputed to pen a replying, but subdued, letter and set out the objective facts, as we perceived them.

Just how embedded those journalists were would be revealed in the "cash for articles" scandal that engulfed the Independent Newspapers group, and the authors of this hatchet job were revealed to be in the pay of the ANC premier of the Western Cape, Ebrahim Rasool, and were forced to leave their posts before I left mine about three years later.

Last weekend, instead of savouring their sweeping victory at the polls, the ANC’s elections head, Malusi Gigaba, vengefully turned on the media: "You campaigned hard against the ANC and we beat you. We defeated you," he harrumphed. On Saturday, at the Franschhoek Literary Festival, veteran journalist Max du Preez pointed out that, during the election, the ANC had the fawning and opposition-censoring South African Broadcasting Corporation in its corner, plus the support of a Gupta-owned newspaper (The New Age) and TV channel (ANN7), and a self-acknowledged ANC supporter in charge of all Independent Newspapers titles. In reality, the ANC had "beaten just three or four newspapers: Business Day, Sunday Times, City Press and the Mail & Guardian". "They totally ignore the Afrikaans press," he added.

These past two Sunday mornings have been excruciating for DA leader Helen Zille. After just 72 hours of positive reporting on her and the party after their impressive election result, parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko dropped a bomb by announcing in the Sunday Times that she was departing from her post and these shores to continue her education. Barely a day later, former DA insider Gareth van Onselen penned an acidic column on the "real reasons" for Mazibuko’s departure and fingered Zille for it.

Just as that report and the furious pushback by the DA against Van Onselen subsided, another even more thermonuclear device was detonated in last Sunday’s newspaper. The Sunday Times led with the headline: "Mazibuko nothing without me — Zille". The report culled various leaks from the small (fewer than 30 members) party federal executive meeting, which suggested that Zille had launched a root-and-branch attack at the meeting on her former protégé, Mazibuko.

Within hours, Zille had published a special edition of her newsletter under the headline, "The abuse of media to drive internal agendas in the DA." She provided a blow-by-blow version of her recollection of the meeting, which she said had been distorted by the Sunday Times to advance "the succession agendas" of certain unnamed party leaders. Let me add that the reporter concerned, Jan-Jan Joubert, does not practise "cash for articles" or any other unethical versions of journalism.

None of this is pretty, and none of it advances the party cause or the interests of its voters who so recently placed 4-million votes behind it. Nor does it do anything to help the cause of the new parliamentary leader, who will take over in what are now the most difficult of circumstances.

I am not sure that seeking meetings with newspaper editors to change the narrative or expose the agendas, or whatever, will really do much to staunch the leaks, an age-old phenomenon which Zille herself, as a political journalist in the 1970s and 1980s, benefited from in her own reportage.

Rather, heed the advice of Tony Blair to his fractious, but electorally successful, Labour Party: "When you look inside you lose, when you look outside you win."

Leon is the author of Opposite Mandela (Jonathan Ball) Follow him on Twitter: @TonyLeonSA OR on Facebook:

Monday, May 19, 2014

Tony Leon on Nelson Mandela

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15 May 2014 | Andrew Donaldson | Original Publication:  Politicsweb

Andrew Donaldson interviews the former DP leader about his new book "Opposite Mandela"

IN his new memoir, Opposite Mandela: Encounters with South Africa's Icon (Jonathan Ball), Tony Leon offers a behind-the-scenes insight into how the country's first democratically-elected president related to his political opponents (see Kindle edition here). Leon was, of course, leader of the then-minuscule Democratic Party and later the Democratic Alliance, and although the two men clashed, sometimes fiercely, on the issues of the day, the young white MP would enjoy an extraordinary accessibility to Nelson Mandela and his office.

Although this access ended abruptly when Thabo Mbeki took over, Leon's relationship with Mandela continued until 2006 - the time of their last conversation. Opposite Mandela is a chatty, personal account of those turbulent, "history-in-the-making" years. Leon engagingly explores such issues as race, reconciliation and corruption; these themes not only marked that period but continue to dominate as President Jacob Zuma enters his second term of office. The Mandela that emerges in Leon's account is a complex figure. There is the much-adored, warm, generous leader - and there is the Mandela the public seldom saw: Machiavellian, flawed, irrational and combative.

Our interview took place on Wednesday morning, at the Mount Nelson Hotel.

POLITICSWEB: The big surprise here, as you tell it, is the warmth of your relationship with Mandela

LEON: "It was an extraordinary feature. Not just of those times, but perhaps of what followed."

But there was also acrimony... 

"There were some pretty rough moments. But that's natural if you were on different political sides. That's why I wrote the book. There's a huge body of literature on Mandela - the authorised biography, the unauthorised biography, the book by the jailer, and so on. These people all had unique access to him. I had a different sort of access, based on the fact that I wasn't a supporter of his party. I was an opponent, and right from the beginning, when he moved into [Houghton], the area I represented [as an MP] back in 1992, he sought me out ... well, I sought him out - he was the most famous resident. But he responded to me so warmly and effusively from the very first moment, and that really persisted right until I left the leadership of the DA. That probably says a great deal about Mandela more than anything else. Richard Stengel, his ghostwriter, makes the point that Mandela was a great persuader and a great charmer. He was ... Stengel used the word ‘seductive'. In the political sense."

You write that FW de Klerk made that observation, that the charm was one of Mandela's two great faults, that he'd use it to smooth over problems without taking effective remedial action. The other was that he would sometimes fly off the handle without checking his facts beforehand.

"That was accurate in many ways. We had a big barney right at the beginning, in Parliament [in 1994], when I took the government on over the Shell House massacre. Mandela did not like to be crossed on certain issues. On other issues he was very relaxed. I also think Mandela did enjoy a robust discussion, a different viewpoint. It was almost useful for him to show me off - I was almost like a mascot at all these state dinners. [Leon gives a dubious impersonation of Mandela:] ‘This young man, he gives me all my trouble. Ha, ha, ha.' ‘Look here, we've got a functioning democracy here. If you have any doubt about that, just ask this young chap. He's the bloke giving me all my problems.' He would laugh about it."

There's a great anecdote about how, at one such function, to honour Queen Elizabeth II, this "democracy" spiel failed with Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. ["Why is your party called ‘Democratic'?" Philip demanded. "Aren't you all democrats now in South Africa? The problem with the word ‘democratic' is that all those republics in the Soviet Bock called themselves democratic and they weren't democratic at all, were they?"]

"Yes, he was not very impressed when Mandela gave him the normal ‘democratic' banter. ‘Oh what's so democratic about you.' He also went on to ask me, ‘What sort of democrat are you?' I said, ‘Well, we're liberals.' ‘Oh,' he said, ‘well, why don't you call yourselves liberals? We have plenty of liberals in England.' I said, ‘It's not really a very popular term in South Africa.' ‘Oh, I wonder why that is. . .' Well, one might wonder today as well."

The "rot", if we could call the intemperate and corrupt creep in our current public life, started on Mandela's watch.

"It's a mixed picture. Of the many things that happened on his watch, he got far more things right than he got wrong. But certainly the orange lights started to flash, as they would have, and now they've gone to bright red. I think the underestimated part of the Mandela years was that [ANC national] conference in Mafikeng [in December 1997]. Because the speech he made there really gave the green light for cadre deployment. It was the green light for turning on the press and civil society. It was the green light for deployment across the whole of society. Those were green-lighted at the end of the Mandela term, and he went along with it. He articulated it.

"And even corruption. I heard a radio commentator yesterday suggest that [former health minister, now chair of the African Union] Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is completely untainted by corruption. It's absolute rubbish. The biggest single corruption case at the start was over Sarafina II, which was the diversion of all that European Union Aids money into a play produced by her best friend, [playwright] Ngobeni Ngema. It was a complete waste of public expenditure, and it wasn't the amount involved, R14million [that was troublesome], it was the fact that Mandela closed ranks around her. [Mandela would do the same with scandals involving Stella Sigcau and Allan Boesak.] Rather than standing against the transgressor, he actually stood with the transgressor, he protected the transgressor and didn't stand against the sin. The arms deal was green-lighted on his watch, although we didn't know the extent of the corruption until he left office. It is fair to say that some early clues were salted to a problem that has become very embedded in South Africa."

Even so, he fought bitterly against his own party when it came to reconciliation.

"Yes. Mandela understood very well that you must actually be generous in victory and not mean-spirited. That is a very powerful lesson that he managed to get his way with. He did stand up against the ANC on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission,, for example. Mbeki went to court [to stop the TRC interim report from being issued] and Mandela said, basically, publish and be damned. I think that Mandela's attachment was not just to the constitution, which was something after all that he helped negotiate and certainly signed into law, but the rule of law itself. I cite that Louis Luyt [SA Rugby] court case where [Mandela] was dragged to court, subpoenaed as a witness, and the court found against him. It didn't make a very complimentary finding on his credibility as a witness. He was deeply outraged that he was dragged there. But he [appeared before the court], he said, ‘because of my respect for the administration of justice'. That really did mark him out in comparison to that which followed. So I think on some of those very big things, he did set the right signal. But other things, less so."

What if he had he served a second term?

That is the very great question. Well, the point to me about Mandela - as a person, a politician and everything else - was that he was deeply adaptive and flexible so he didn't stick to the hidebound positions because he'd once articulated them and the party held them. He demonstrated that with our first get-together way back in 1992 when he was telling [DP stalwarts] Ken Andrew and Zach de Beer and me how he'd been to Davos, the World Economic Forum, and he'd been bashed over the head by all these business people. As he put it, ‘They all want to be photographed with me, but they wouldn't donate a cent to South Africa because of [the ANC's] policies of nationalisation so I came back and said, Listen boys, we must change our policy.' 

"So I think Mandela did take lessons from the real world. He wasn't in that bubble, strangely enough, that so many politicians and business leaders find themselves in, which is an echo chamber. You know, ‘Yes sir, how high must I jump?' He did on many issues show a flexibility. HIV/Aids was perhaps the best example of that because, although the ignoring of the pandemic happened on his watch and he did nothing about it, the moment he stepped down as president, he listened and saw what was going - his own son had died of an Aids-related illness - and he changed. And then he tried to get the ANC to change, and that ended very unhappily for him. [In his book, Leon points to biographer Martin Meredith's ‘painful' account of an NEC meeting where Mandela tried in vain to get Mbeki and his supporters to revise their stance on HIV/Aids. Mandela was torn apart by ‘wild, aggressive and merciless' NEC members. ‘After his mauling,' one witness said, ‘Madiba looked twice his age, old and ashen.']

"But he then went out to proselytise for anti-retrovirals and against denialism. So you can't help but think that if he served a second term that South Africa would not have had that calamitous policy. I also think that Mandela's instincts - and you saw that with the Sani Abacha incident when [the Nigerian despot] executed [activist] Ken Saro-Wiwa - were, with certain qualifications, in favour of human rights."

He had no qualms, though, about who he took money from?

"No, he didn't. Basically he had an enormous attachment to countries or organisations that were pro-ANC during the struggle and he tended to allow that to be a blind spot. I mean, look at [former Indonesian dictator, President] Suharto. The irony is that Suharto was the one who gave Mandela those batik-styled shirts. But he did a lot of damage besides... In some ways it was purely mercenary so, for example, Suharto got [SA's highest honour, the Order of Good Hope, in exchange for contributions to the ANC's 1994 election fund]. It was a cash for an award offer. Ideologically, Suharto was vehemently anti-Communist. [Suharto's brutal anti-Communist purge of 1965-66 left at least 500 000 dead and about three times as many imprisoned.] And, don't forget, the ANC was busy fighting on behalf of independence in East Timor at the same time they were bestowing this honour on the very people [the Suharto regime] who had massacred the people in East Timor.

"We got into an argument, early one morning in January 1997 [shortly after Leon was offered a cabinet position by Mandela] because we were about to sell tank firing systems to the Syrian defence force. I mentioned to him that I didn't exactly have a pro-Syrian constituency in my little party, and he starts going into a thing about, ‘You know, America was against us, and Syria was in favour of us and therefore the regime of Hafez al-Assad [father of Bashar al-Assad], they were on the side of right and America was on the side of wrong.' 

"But he was prepared to speak up on behalf... I mean, look at [Robert] Mugabe! When he was rampaging through Zimbabwe in the 2000-2005 period I don't think that Mandela would have given him the kind of succour that Mbeki did. But you know, this is speculative."

At about that time, in January 1997 Mandela offered you a cabinet position, an appointment many DP members felt you should accept. Yet you refused because although Mandela had claimed there were often vehement disagreements in cabinet meetings and members were free to state their viewpoints, they would not be permitted to express their dissent in public. As he put it, "We must go out and face the world with one voice, just as Mugabe and [Joshua] Nkomo do."

"That sealed it for me. That's when I realised that this was a bridge too far. That is true, he did say that [Zimbabwe] was an example of a government of reconciliation, and I thought, ‘Ja, but at what price?' I don't think Mandela had a high regard at all for Mugabe. He told me once, ‘You know, we were in Addis Ababa, at a meeting of the Organisation of African Unity, and I came into the room and all the people, the dignitaries and the media, that were surrounding Mugabe left him and they came to talk to me.' And he said, ‘I think that he was very angry that day and I'm not sure that his anger has recovered.'"

Which brings us to Mandela's anger towards FW de Klerk, and his treatment of the  National Party leader. You quote a source as saying, "In Mandela's eyes, De Klerk became the proxy for much of the anger he felt and managed so masterfully to mask from view, towards the group and community FW came from." Who was this insider?

"I can't identify him because he was a person of consequence in Mandela's cabinet, and I suspect he will be a person of consequence in the future of this country, so let me not be more indiscreet than I already have been in this book. There was a very bad chemistry between De Klerk and Mandela - to the extent that Mandela would say that, look, it was easier to deal with PW Botha. But I put that down to the fact that they were both on the same stage at the same time. It's easier to look on a predecessor with more fondness than your contemporary. But I was struck by that ‘proxy' comment, because Mandela masked his true feelings very well in the national interest, and that De Klerk really was the proxy for what Mandela thought. We saw that at Codesa, back in December 1991. Wow, that fury came out there! That first meeting, there was a misunderstanding about who would speak last, and then De Klerk said something, and Mandela just lost it, just ripped into him, and said, ‘You have no idea what democracy means!' There was a lot of anger."

But they made up afterwards? There was, for want of a better term, a "gentlemanliness" to it all?

"There was - but there was no repair of the structural rift. Which was inherent in that government of national unity."

And Mandela could play the race card?

"He certainly played it on occasion, as I recall. But usually when he felt cornered. It wasn't done as a matter of course. The reflexive use of it now has almost discounted its efficacy but it was used by him to defend, I felt, the indefensible. Corruption, and so on. He had this wonderful attitude towards me until I crossed him on Shell House and then he just lost his temper, and said, ‘Well, you know, I know who you are, you're just a young man who wants to make a good impression, your party's all white.' What the hell, I thought, has that got to do with the price of eggs? He was very angry with this probe I was conducting into the massacre. It didn't start off like that but eventually when he couldn't convince me to back down he kind of used that tactic. But I would say that was more the exception than the rule with him."

Then there was the John Dugard affair. In March 1995 Mandela told your that there was a problem with the DP's nomination of Dugard - a professor in international law and a respected human rights champion - to the soon-to-be-established Human Rights Commission, and that Dugard should be dropped in favour of veteran MP Helen Suzman. There was no reason why, as you suggested, both of them couldn't be on the HRC, but Dugard had to be dropped?

"That was a strange one. [Leon writes in his book, ‘It suggested, and this later became the iron rule in the new South Africa, just as it had pervaded the old republic, that individual merit merit would be placed second to racial and political preferment. That the liberal community would, almost by definition, have more rights activists in its camp as a proportion of its overall numerical strength was passed over in this early signal that political and racial representivity would trump other considerations.' 

"That happened [at a time when it seemed the HRC] would have a huge role to play. Immediately afterwards there was controversy about the appointments with [then HRC chair] Barney Pityana getting into a row with [Judge] Dennis Davis, who hasn't a racist bone in his body and [who] criticised some rightwing conservative being there instead of Dugard. But then Pityana said, ‘If you criticise us you're criticising a black president and ipso facto you're a racist.' 

"It was such a thought-blocking response but that almost became the terms of trade for everything afterwards. I think that was a moment when we were having our maximum glasnost in South Africa and everything seemed open and Brave New World when - boom! Public appointments are now being made, you're being critical of them? You're going to be blocked with the racist card. And it doesn't matter who does it. For example, there's Joe Slovo's widow, Helena Dolny, being elbowed out of her position [as managing director] at the Land Bank by some apparatchik who was a homeland trustee who happened to be black. But she's white, so she can go to hell? The fact that she's Joe Slovo's widow and had impeccable credentials didn't matter. 

"I think if you're to look back at that you've got to say, ‘Well, there was a big paradox, and South Africa's filled with paradoxes and contradictions - because Mandela was in many ways the great non-racialist, the great rainbow warrior, but at the same time, very quickly, racialisation was reasserting itself across the board in South Africa. A lot of people didn't want to speak about that. ‘No, no, no, you can't say that,' and so on, but it was so. It's now entrenched, that re-racialistaion. It's not a question of affirmative action, it's a question of racial quotas. And racial quotas are very far from what the constitution had in mind and very far from that more hopeful vision of Mandela's."

Can we talk of deconstitionalisation? 

"I think there are a lot of threats to the constitution. I quote [Deputy Minister of Correctional Services Ngoako] Ramathlodi in my book, and he says there is a body of opinion inside the ANC that regards the constitutional transition as a bit of a hoax. [Leon reads:] ‘In 2011, [Ramathlodi] stated that the constitutional transition was a victory for "apartheid forces" who wanted to "retain white domination under a black government". This was achieved "by emptying the legislature and executive of real power" and giving it to "the other constitutional institutions and civil society movements".' There are many others in the ANC who share this opinion."

You end your book with a quote from JM Coetzee, on Mandela: "He was, and by the time of his death was universally held to be, a great man; he may well be the last of the great men, as the concept of greatness retires into the shadows."

"Mandela wasn't just a great man, which he was, he was also dealing with great times. When you're dealing with this drama, the end of an era, the beginning of a new one, it's..." 

Cometh the hour, cometh the man?

"Absolutely. Now it's the day-to-day stuff, which he didn't give that much attention to. That becomes the preoccupation of his successors. And that is probably true of every political succession where you have a new era and a great leader and by definition successors who have to deal with that. I think that was part of Mbeki's frustration, that he was the guy who had to deal with the rubbish and clean out the lavatories as it were. There was Mandela, basking in the adulation of the world, and there he was going around having to sort out everything."

This article was published with the assistance of the Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung für die Freiheit (FNF). The views presented in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of FNF.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Top three parties deserve an ‘A’ for poll showing

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13 May 2014 | Tony Leon | Original Publication:  BDlive

The top three parties to emerge from last week’s election — the ANC, DA and EFF — can, with justification, each award themselves an ‘A’, writes Tony Leon

THE brilliant conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, Benjamin Zander — author of The Art of Possibility — uses a novel teaching practice. He tells all of his students on the first day of class: "Go ahead, give yourself an ‘A’."

Here at home, the top three parties to emerge from last week’s election can, with justification, each award themselves an "A".

Start with the winner, the African National Congress (ANC). In this column last week, I pointed out that it had never headed into an election since 1994 with so many negatives against it, from the broken unity of the alliance, the clouds of corruption, community dissatisfaction engulfing its administration and the stumbles of its president, Jacob Zuma. Despite these hurdles, it swept the boards by a distance of 40 percentage points from its rising challenger, the Democratic Alliance (DA).

Despite its slippage in five provinces, most notably in Gauteng, it ended where it began — in control of eight of them. Although its voter share is fractionally lower than it was in 1994, the combined opposition total vote has barely budged in 20 years, even though the forces of opposition have dramatically rearranged themselves since then. And here’s the thing: 20 years ago, when the opposition parties obtained 38% of the vote, it could be said that those votes were objectively against the ANC. But now the 6.5% total contributed to this column by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) is far more ambiguous. It offers a version, more populist and radical certainly, of the ANC itself. The same could not be said of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), which, with 10% voter share in 1994 was not simply an opponent of the ANC, but in ideological terms, from support for free enterprise to championing federalism, was its complete opposite.

This election has also strengthened Zuma. Once again, he has defied the political death spiral confidently expected by pundits, who opined that a below-60% vote would imperil him. In fact, as an ANC insider pointed out to me, even before the results were in, Zuma is incontestably in control of his party. On his national executive committee, populated with ministers, deputies and directors-generals, about 90% of its members owe their offices to his patronage.

In second place, the DA also gets an "A", and possibly in view of its increased voter share, even an "A-plus". While Ipsos and the Sunday Times did our democracy a great favour by publishing such precise pre-election polls, the missing factor in our analysis here is the absence of exit polls. So it remains speculative as to precisely where the DA additions came from. Were they disaffected Congress of the People (COPE) voters, or the newly registered, or ANC crossovers, or a combination? But the remarkable fact of the DA advance is that it happened in the face of huge demographic shrinkage of its core white base. Simply to have maintained its previous voter share, given white flight and mortality, would have been an achievement. But to grow beyond that meant breaking into new demographic markets, which it certainly did.

But the shock weekend announcement by DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko that, just as her caucus added 22 new members, she was leaving her post, has taken some shine off its electoral achievement. And in leadership terms, the ANC and DA now have opposite challenges.

Zuma has plenty of external negatives in the country and among investors abroad to rebut. The DA, on the other hand, is externally enhanced but internally divided with a hole in its key parliamentary slot. Since I left the party and parliamentary leadership in 2007, I have held the view that having two centres of power, one in Parliament and one outside, was problematic. Objectively, as she did on the weekend, DA leader Helen Zille can take full credit for the party’s vote having doubled under her. Equally, in the same period, the third parliamentary leader has just quit her post, suggesting a very high turnover in seven years that can be remedied only when the national and parliamentary leadership roles are fused again into one.

The EFF can also give itself, at least, an "A". Its debut result impresses, but its future is less assured than the big two. Most of the party’s support depends on its charismatic leader, Julius Malema. But both the criminal justice system and the South African Revenue Service are liable to be less forgiving of him than of his arch nemesis, Zuma. And one thing about parliamentary opposition work compared with campaigning can be gleaned, with adaptation, from a famous phrase: "You campaign in poetry, you legislate in prose."

Whether EFF MPs will affect this process is open to question. The past two decades of our Parliament have been extremely unforgiving of the third party finishers: just witness the vertiginous decline of both the IFP and COPE. Interesting days lie ahead for the winners and the 90% of voters who backed them.


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Join Tony Leon on his Book Tour for the Launch of Opposite Mandela in Cape Town, Durban and Joburg

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Jonathan Ball Publishers and Exclusive Books invite you to join them at one of three events for the launch of Tony Leon’s latest book, Opposite Mandela.

Leon will be in Cape Town at the V&A Waterfront branch where he will be in discussion with Minister Trevor Manuel on Wednesday 14 May. On Tuesday 20 May he will be speaking to Lord Risby at The Pavilion shopping Centre in Durban and on Thursday 22 May Leon will be in discussion with Tito Mboweni at Exclusive Books Hyde Park Corner in Johannesburg.

Furthermore, The Star invites you to join them on Wednesday 21 May for an evening with Leon at The Rand Club in Johannesburg. This event costs R450pp or R650 per couple and includes a copy of Opposite Mandela and a three month subscription to The Star.

Remember to RSVP for these events if you would like to attend. More details below.

See you there – be it in Cape Town, Durban or Johannesburg!

Cape Town



The Rand Club

  • Date: Wednesday, 21 May 2014
  • Time: 7:00 PM
  • Venue: The Rand Club
    33 Loveday Street, corner Fox street
    Johannesburg | Map
  • Host: The Star
  • Dress code: Smart casual
  • Cost: R450 pp, R650 per couple (includes three month subscription to The Star and copy of the book)
  • RSVP:, 011 633 2564

Exclusive Books Hyde Park

Book Details