Tony Leon is the former leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA). He was also South Africa’s ambassador to Argentina between 2009 and 2012. He studied Law at Wits and was elected onto the the Wits SRC during the 1980s.
How do you think the DA has fared since your departure?
Electorally, the DA has done well and improved its position in each national election and gained some share of the elusive Black vote. But it failed in its declared objectives of either getting 30% of the national vote in May 2014 or winning the province of Gauteng. Existentially, it faces the prospect of being overshadowed by the bare-knuckled tactics of the EFF as an opposition and then in defining itself as a distinct entity from the ANC.
What are your thoughts on the new opposition politics?
I would add that the real dilemma for opposition politics is that, notwithstanding significant public disenchantment with the ruling party, there is still a 40 point spread between ANC and DA and the ANC governs in eight of nine provinces, but this could shift as conditions deteriorate.
Do white males have a future in South African politics and why?
There are still many white males in the DA (and certainly in the small FF Plus) and even one or three or so in the ANC. But I think there has been a withdrawal of whites from the body politic, which is a pity since, under the constitution, there should be room for all races to participate and prosper in politics.
What are your thoughts on the current conflict in the Middle-East?
I think it is a war without end, sadly. Many states do not recognise Israel’s right to exist, which is the existential issue at the heart of the conflicts and Israel certainly has made the conditions for a properly constituted Palestinian state almost objectively impossible to achieve. Now we have the rise of extremist Islam in the form of IS and the Sunni-Shia divide playing itself out across the borders of states which, in the case of Iraq and Syria, do not really exist as functioning entities. Democracy arrived briefly via the Arab Spring and, with perhaps the exception of Tunisia, never took root anywhere. It is a profoundly depressing picture.
What inspired you to write your new book Opposite Mandela?
I was encouraged by my publisher, Jonathan Ball, to write the account which appears in Opposite Mandela on the basis that, with all the accounts of Mandela and his hugely impactful leadership, no one, until this book, had written from first-hand observation an eye-witness memoir of what it was like to be in opposition to Mandela and still have a good, often warm, relationship with him and his presidency. Hopefully my book sheds some new light on this extraordinary man and the time when he led our nation.