Alex Russell writes in The Financial Times today about the new memoir (“On The Contrary”) published by South Africa’s Opposition leader, Tony Leon, whose minority party has scored increasingly well at the polls in recent years against the dominant African National Congress of Thabo Mbe Leon’s memoir, Russell writes, “goes to the heart of a longstanding dilemma for white opposition politicians in post-colonial Africa: should they criticize or fall into line? The tension is at the core of the book.”
Russell congratules Leon, who stepped down as Opposition leader last year, for preciently understanding Mbeki’s autocratic tendencies and the real threat of overwhelming power acquired by the ANC. With Mbeki’s term as president soon to expire, South Africans will experience a new phase in their post-apartheid society. Long marked by an admirable form of rhetorical racial harmony, South African society seems increasingly racialized. Russell blames Leon for “accentuating the racial division of South Africa’s politics.” That was inevitable because ten years ago the question was not what role whites would play in South Africa politics but whether they would play any role at all. Leon helped to establish a sustainable role for whites but he failed to establish a compelling role. Until a true opposition within the ANC emerges as an independent force, white dissidents such as Leon will always be on the defensive. Reform, not race, remains the central challenge in South Africa.