by Will TG Miller
On the 27th April, Lord Risby hosted the Henry Jackson Society’s event ‘Where in the World is South Africa?’ with speaker Tony Leon. Leon is the longest serving leader of the official opposition in parliament since the advent of democracy in 1994, after which he served as the South African ambassador to Argentina. He has attracted great praise from all sections of the South African political sphere, and Mandela himself is quoted as saying of Leon “Your contribution to democracy is enormous”. After a warm introduction by Lord Risby, who praised the selflessness of Leon for devoting his life to leading an opposition that he knew would have no chance of winning in the interest of furthering democracy, Leon began his talk.
Tony Leon began by saying that “Sometimes, hope can win over fear”. His general tone was optimistic, but he spoke frank and factually about the problems of South Africa in the 21st century. South Africa, he said, had turned its back on 350 years of racial division – but a huge racial disparity still existed. He spoke in good depth about the continued existence of the racial divide and the consequences this had for the political system and democracy in South Africa.
Leon also spoke a lot about the South African economy. The current state of the SA economy is the worst it has been in years, with the country facing a credit-rating downgrade to junk status this year or the next. South Africa, he said, had a choice between the ANC and a robust industrialized economy – but he also conceded that the next election would likely again be won by the ANC with an overall majority.
However, there was cause for cautious optimism in South Africa, he stated. The opposition parties would likely make some gains in the next election with inroads into new areas traditionally ANC dominated. Increasing awareness of the constitutional abuses of Zuma and his government meant that scrutiny was likely to be higher in the future.
Overall, the portrait that Leon painted of South Africa was a rather bleak one – but not without prospects of improvement or change. For as he said at the start of his talk – sometimes, just sometimes, hope can win over fear.