Tony Leon comes to Zuma's defence
Cape Town - President Jacob Zuma, facing public fire over Nkandla, strikes, a faltering economy and the jostling for position within the ANC, has received some welcome backing, albeit from an unlikely source - former DA leader Tony Leon.
The retired ambassador to Argentina addressed the Cape Town Press Club on Wednesday and touched on a number of matters, from the Marikana tragedy to Zuma’s presidency.
Comparing Zuma with Thabo Mbeki, with whom Leon had a frosty relationship as leader of the opposition in Parliament, he described the current president as “far more affable” than Mbeki. On Zuma’s stewardship, Leon said people needed to understand that Zuma did not promise to be a visionary leader with an individual agenda, but would take direction from his party, the ANC.
He said Zuma was not necessarily at fault for some of the problems the country and ANC were facing today.
Leon pointed to similarities between Argentina and SA and part of his speech was about how he saw events taking place in SA from overseas: “I have spent much of the past three years thinking deeply about the considerable similarities - both have resource-rich economies of the same size ($400 billion), both have a geo-strategic location on either side of the South Atlantic.
“Both have overcome oppressive and authoritarian governments and have been replaced with democratically elected governments, both of which have populist elements and a tendency to centralise power.”
Leon said that compared with the rest of the world, there were several advantages that only SA has: mineral pre-eminence, unique tourism diversity, the beauty of the land and economic sophistication, the geo-strategic location between rising Asia and South America, and the extraordinary example of its negotiated constitutional settlement.
On the constitution, he said: “It is no holy grail, simply a set of arrangements and rules of the road for the neverending journey towards democracy”.
He added that with elections where the majority party gets more than 60 percent of the vote, constitutional caution should be encouraged.
“Sometimes the finer detail and often the motivating spirit of the constitutions are ignored for the simple reason that they can be. More competitive politics will obviously change behaviour and that too is a task for the opposition forces in both places to address.”
Leon said SA was a country of light and darkness, this being exemplified by the 2010 World Cup and, lately, the Marikana shootings: “ has limitless potential to achieve the best, but also has the complexity of our socio-economic reality. In the real world we have to deal with both.”
On his future, Leon said he was not looking to go back into party politics or seeking a leadership position. But he was still a supporter of the DA and what it stood for. He said his membership probably lapsed since he had been away.