Tony Leon, the former leader of the Democratic Party (now DA) and former South African Ambassador (to Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay) under the ANC government from 2009 to 2012, has published his new book, ‘Opposite Mandela: Encounters with South Africa’s Icon’. It offers a different, memorable insight into Nelson Mandela.
Journalist, Andrew Donaldson, has published an interview with Tony on Politicsweb. Here are 2 excerpts that are bound to want to make you read the whole interview and buy the book:
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.”
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.”
Read the full interview at Politicsweb.