Alec Russell, the Financial Times‘s Johannesburg correspondent, reviews the new 707-page, autobiography of Tony Leon, the former leader of South Africa’s “liberal” Democratic Alliance (“liberal” is not an entirely correct label for the DA; that’s more a relic of its ideological forerunners’ position relative to the National Party within a very limited white public discourse under Apartheid).
Leon’s lasting legacy, if you may have forgotten, was to took the counsel of his advisers and run on the now infamous “Fight Back” electoral platform in 1999 to increase his party’s size of the vote, until then about 2% of the vote. Some critics referred to it derisively as “Fight Black.”
Here’s Russell on that decision and its long-term effects for the DA:
Leon’s dilemma, when he took up his party’s leadership in 1994, was whether to stick to the core principles of [Helen] Suzman’s liberal tradition or whether to shift to the right to entice supporters of the National Party in order to build a more powerful opposition force. He did the latter and to great effect. His party won 12 per cent of the vote in the last election in 2004, having won just 1.7 per cent in 1994. The National Party is now no more. Its last few MPs have supinely joined the ANC. But the growth came at a price. Under [Thabo] Mbeki, in a crude rewriting of history, white liberals have often been demonised as worse than the Nationalists. But by sweeping up the “Nats”’ core supporters, Leon ended up accentuating the racial division of South Africa’s politics. He also laid himself open to charges from the ANC that his party was a defender of privilege. Leon concedes he may have been a little too abrasive.
The full review here.