Avishkar Govender
Avishkar Govender

If Leon had been a minister …

tony 1, 2, 3If Tony Leon had accepted former president Mandela’s offer to join the government of national unity in 1994, and had become a minister, in the first non-racial democratic government from 1994 to 1999, it is clear that the fortunes of the DA would have, today, been different.

Not wanting to become lapdogs to the behemoth ANC, the DA chose to decline the offer to join the IFP and the NNP in making up the first ANC-led cabinet. And though eventually the NNP and IFP withdrew from the government of national unity, it is evident that the DA passed up a gilded opportunity to recast their image as a liberation party.

Though it is true that wars are often fought on the basis of the prospect of a future share of the victor’s spoils, peace and reconciliation drove the ANC–NNP co-operative relationship and then merger. It is unusual that though Inkatha WeSizwe and the Progressive Party were closer to the ANC’s own ideological position, that it was in fact the Nasionale Party that joined the ranks of the mass democratic revolution, instead of the Buthelezi and Leon people.

And so the IFP and DA were left to wander the realms of the land, outside of the warmth and protection of the tripartite alliance — searching for a mandate to govern — on the basis of being an alternative to the ANC. The IFP’s legacy in KwaZulu-Natal’s and eThekwini’s public services and in some of the national ministries still looms large as the ANC has tried to transform everything along progressive lines. The DA by contrast has flitted between opposition and government in the Western Cape and Cape Town, with the latter falling to an ideologically divergent DA-led coalition in 2006.

Neither the DA nor the IFP have been able to hold up as an example a city, province or government department which is way above the rest so as to convince us of their ability to provide better quality of governance. And though Cape Town lands plaudits from its First-World peers, Cape Town’s gross human development inequalities are clear for all to see.

The DA’s mistake was choosing to imitate the IFP’s leader-driven campaigning. Because the leader of the IFP also happens to be the traditional prime minister and prince of the Kingdom of KwaZulu, the traditional head of the KwaZulu-Natal provincial house of traditional leaders, a South African statesman of international bearing and the former chief minister of the KwaZulu homeland, the IFP are able to use his high-profile status to lift the fortunes of the IFP.

By contrast, the DA’s choice of Leon was hardly in line with the three preconditions for leader-driven campaigning which demand that the leader must be a consistent newsmaker for a reason other than being the leader; that the leader must have a broad appeal which enables all people across all divides to feel that they are represented by the leader (outside of the party leadership) and that the leader must be a diplomat who builds relationships with all and receives support from all quarters.

Leon was none of these things, in short Leon was no Genscher, the German foreign minister who led a minor opposition party from obscurity to centrality, by manifesting his popularity, as Germany’s celebrity politico, into gains for his small party.

Leon passed up this opportunity of taking an apartheid-era ministry and transforming it into something which worked to improve the lives of every South African and in so doing giving him the mainstream stardom that would have lifted the sails of the Democratic Party. Instead, sitting on the sidelines with their knee-jerk reactionary opposition politics, Leon & Co were unable to distinguish themselves from the other ANC haters and were unable to showcase concrete achievements in quality government.

If Leon had been a minister, would the government of national unity have ever split? I don’t think so. In fact instead we would have seen 15 years of an ANC-NNP-IFP-DP coalition cabinet which would have accelerated delivery and seen an increase in the number of DP members in senior cabinet, parastatal and public service positions. And we would have had the UDM, ID, FF, MF, PAC or Azapo (or someone else) to play the opposition role.

This would have enabled the DP to be the great solution provider to the new South Africa and the people of South Africa would have been ever so grateful that they would have consistently increased their support for the DP at every election. Instead we got to see the verligte Nats going off to braai with the comrades in the ANC and the verkrampte Nats staying to play frisbee with Louis Luyt and Tony Leon in the new DA. And thus the political landscape began to unravel.

Defections, one-man bands and the ever increasing number of opposition parties have eroded the DA’s position and strengthened the ANC’s hands time and again while the conservative integration plan has yielded little more than a static 2 million supporters for the new DA.

So in terms of the position of liberal policy in South Africa, would Leon not have effected more change had he not simply swallowed his pride and sought the humility of co-operation rather than the glamour and grandeur of a mediated, ironic pugilism which made his name and landed his party into a state of isolated official opposition-dom?