Leon gets ‘airbrush’in DA tale

2013-04-15 00:00

DA leader Helen Zille is accused of having failed to acknowledge her predecessor, Tony Leon, in an e-mail campaign that she launched to tell the “untold” story of her party.

Launching the Know Your DA campaign at the weekend, Zille mentioned “pioneers” who fought against apartheid and built the DA’s foundation.

She named Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille, former DA federal chairperson Joe Seremane, current federal chairperson James Wilmot, former Eastern Cape premier Nosimo Balindlela and Breede Vallei mayor Basil Kivedo as the “pioneers”.

Although she spoke at length about Progressive Party MP Helen Suzman, Zille did not mention Leon, who led the DA after the Democratic Party merged with the New National Party in 1999. Leon’s omission attracted criticism from academic and political commentator Rhoda Kadalie, who took to Twitter, saying Leon was being airbrushed out of opposition politics.

“Where is the untold bit about Tony Leon?” she asked in a tweet.

Yesterday, Kadalie, talking to The Witness, described the omission as a “major oversight” of a political figure who increased the DA’s support from two percent to 12%. “Whether you like it or not, he played an enormous role in building the DA to what it is today,” she said.

Kadalie accused the DA of re-inventing history to suit its own narrative and following ANC footsteps in the manner it airbrushed out former president Thabo Mbeki. “I find it appalling that political parties are doing that. They are all re-inventing history. If Tony Leon built up the party, the least you can do was to acknowledge his contribution,” said Kadalie, who is an Mbeki critic.

She said she took the DA to task because “all I want to do is to correct factual oversight”.

Kadalie said Leon had broadened the DA support base to include Afrikaners and coloureds, and brought Seremane into the fold.

“Even [former president Nelson] Mandela acknowledged him as a great statesman. President [Jacob] Zuma offered him the ambassadorship to Argentina, so why would his party ignore him?” Kadalie asked.

Leon said an objective reading of history would properly record who did what, when, how and in what circumstances.

In an apparent swipe at the DA, Leon said: “My advice to political parties in SA is not to fixate on the past. I would worry about offering a vision for the future as I reflect in my current book about my experiences in Argentina and South Africa.”

He said delving into the past ran the risk of losing the fight for the future. “I’m very much more interested in future business, not in trying to re-invent the past,” he told The Witness.

Leon also said he was content about the history he had written for himself. “What Mandela said about me, even Thabo Mbeki had nice words to say when I stepped down as the leader.”

Zille could not be reached for comment, but her chief of staff Geordin Hill-Lewis downplayed the omission of Leon, saying the Know Your DA campaign was not intended to present a comprehensive history of the party.

“It is intended specifically to tell the previously untold part of the DA’s history, namely its role in the struggle against apartheid.

“This is to counter the ANC propaganda that the DA was somehow on the wrong side of the struggle, which is not true.

“Tony Leon’s role in the growth of the DA into the official opposition is well known,” Hill-Lewis said.

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