‘Long way to go for opposition’

Nwabisa Makunga

THE majority of poor South Africans will vote for the ANC in next year’s general election, not because they believe in President Jacob Zuma but because his government has brought some change to their lives, former DA leader Tony Leon said yesterday.

Speaking charismatically about his latest book, The Accidental Ambassador, in Port Elizabeth last night, Leon – who has recently returned from a three-year stint as ambassador to Argentina – said that despite the growth in opposition parties in the country, there was a long way to go before they shaved off considerable votes from the ANC.

Leon was responding to a question by former Sunday Times editor Mondli Makhanya, who questioned him on the state of opposition parties in South Africa, challenging him to predict the outcome of next year’s much-anticipated poll.

The two were guests at the The Herald/ NMMU Community Dialogue at the Little Theatre in Central.

“I think the opposition will emerge bigger and government smaller. But … rural voters, for example, will keep voting for the ANC, not because they admire President Zuma’s lifestyle but because every month, whether through their granny or a daughter, they’re getting something at the end of the month from government. However bad service delivery is, there is tangible change that people can see. So people can say, ‘I’m sick of Guptagate or Nkandlagate etc, but I am getting something in my hand’,” Leon said. “I think the DA will strengthen in Cape Town but I’m not sure if any other province is realistically in reach of coalition government.”

Leon, who significantly grew the DA from its days as the Democratic Party, warned political newcomer, Agang’s Mamphela Ramphele, that it “takes years and years of backbreaking work to build a party”.

“I don’t think there’s going to be a huge breakthrough by her,” Leon said.

The book details Leon’s experiences as South Africa’s face in a country battling with similar challenges, like a painful past, corruption and poor accountability in governance.

He said he was convinced to take the job when Zuma told him that South Africa could not be represented only by ANC leaders abroad.

Responding to Luzuko Ntshongwana, who asked what could be done to curb corruption, Leon said he had learnt that “money plus power minus accountability equals corruption”.

Prompted by the book, which details a culture of populism among the powerful, Makhanya warned against a “disengaged elite who live in a bubble and believe their own propaganda as they repeat it to themselves” and are far removed from the needs of the people. “We’re not there yet but there is a tendency by our politicians to say things that people want to hear rather than things that can be done,” Makhanya said.

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