Anthony James Leon (born 15 December 1956) is a South Africa
n politician who served as leader of the opposition
from 1999-2007 as leader of the Democratic Alliance
(DA). He led the DA from its inception in 2000, until his retirement from leadership in 2007. Before that, he led the Democratic Party from 1994. He is the longest serving leader of the official opposition in parliament since the advent of democracy in 1994. Although still a member of the DA, he served as the South African Ambassador to Argentina
under the ANC government from 2009 to 2012.
Since 2012, Leon has been serving as Executive Chairman oResolve Communications (Pty) Ltd
- a South African-based advocacy for reputation management
and strategic communications consultancy, and a Senior Advisor tK2 Intelligence
a London-NY based international investigative and risk analytics consultancy founded by Jules and Jeremy Kroll in 2009. Leon is also a contracted columnist to Times Media Group Ltd, with his columns appearing weekly or monthly in Business Day, Sunday Times, and the Times.
Leon was born and raised in Durban
during the apartheid
era. He was educated at Clifton Preparatory School and Kearsney College
near Durban. His father Ramon Leon
was a High Court Judge.
[Canvassing with a Nat out of Tatler and an assertive DP yuppie]
Sunday Times. 23 July 1989
Both his parents were active in the liberal, anti-apartheid Progressive Party
(which later became the Democratic Party). He is Jewish
In 1974 at the age of 18 he became an organiser for the Progressive Party
, one of the two opposition parties represented in parliament at the time. After this, he qualified as an attorney at the University of the Witwatersrand
, where he was President of the Law Students' Council and Vice-President of the Students' Representative Council, and became a lecturer in the Law Department in 1986. He has accredited Harry Schwarz
and Helen Suzman
as his biggest inspirations. In the same year he was elected to the Johannesburg
City Council for Yeoville
. When the results for the election were released, it was announced that the NP
candidate Sam Bloomberg had won. However Harry Schwarz
, his political mentor, uncovered that this was untrue, and Leon was declared the winner. He became leader of the opposition in the city council.
In 1989 he was elected to Parliament for the Houghton
constituency, representing the Progressive Party's successor, the Democratic Party
From 1990 to 1994 he chaired the DP's Bill of Rights
Commission, and as such was an advisor to the Convention for a Democratic South Africa
(CODESA) and a delegate to the multi-party negotiations that led to the end of apartheid and the establishment of a non-racial democracy in 1994.
At the 1994 general elections
, Leon was again elected to Parliament in the first democratic National Assembly
, as well as leader of the Democratic Party. At the time, the Democratic Party was perceived as merely a minor party of white liberals
, an oddity in the first non-racial democratic government of South Africa. Yet between 1994 and 1999 its seven members managed to become the most vocal, active and involved legislators.
In 1998, Leon published his first book on the eve of the second democratic election, entitledHope & Fear: Reflections of a Democrat
(Jonathan Ball, 1998). With the second democratic elections
in 1999 and the New National Party
only retaining 28 seats (down from 82 in 1994), he became Leader of the Opposition
as the DP took 38 seats, showing a growth of over five-fold.
After the 2004 general elections
, the DA under Leon had a vote increased by 2.8%, as did the ANC with an increase of 3.3%. These gains came at a cost to three of the five minor opposition parties, with only the Independent Democrats
— a newcomer in the elections — also attracting support.
Leon built a high media profile as opposition leader by criticising the ANC government under Nelson Mandela
but more so under his successor, President Thabo Mbeki
On 26 November 2006, Leon announced that he would step down from the leadership of the DA in 2007, and would not accept nomination for the leadership of the party at the party's congress in May 2007. He officially stepped down at that conference, and Helen Zille
was elected to be the new party leader on 6 May 2007. Leon, nevertheless, kept his seat in Parliament until 2009, when its term expired.
One of South Africa's leading political commentator, Justice Malala wrote about him: "Every South African should wake up today and say a little thank you to Tony Leon ... he was fearless when many were fearful, vocal when many had lost their voices, openly critical when many would only speak in whispers ... the man has done a remarkable job."
Leon was voted 16th in the TV channel SABC3's Top 100 Great South Africans
From September to December 2007, Leon was a Fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard
's John F. Kennedy School of Government
On 29 November 2007, Mr. Leon was a guest at the prestigious Yale Political Union
, keynoting a student debate on the topic "Resolved: The Nation Should Not Be Tied To Ethnicity." After a vigorous debate, the motion passed.
In 2008, Leon released his autobiographyOn the Contrary
. The book was favourably received, ''The Economist
'' describing it as "eloquent, funny and rich... an important record of South Africa’s young democracy, witnessed from the other side of the fence". The book was also serialized by the Johannesburg ''Sunday Times
''. The book won the Recht Malan Prize in the Via Afrika Book Awards
for the best work of non fiction in 2009.
In the last quarter of 2008 Leon was a Visiting Fellow at the Cato Institute Center for Liberty and Global Prosperity in Washington DC. His research paper: The State of Liberal Democracy in Africa - Resurgence or Recession was published in May 2010.
Leon published a series of articles in ''Business Day'' from the campaign trail of the 2009 South African general election
After Leon completed his over 20 years as an MP, he was invited to write two weekly columns in leading South African Sunday paper "Sunday Times" and in leading daily paper "Business Day", winning excellent reviews for his writing and analysis even from previous political opponents.
Since 2012, Leon has been a contracted columnist to Times Media Group Ltd, with his columns appearing weekly or monthly in Business Day, Sunday Times, and the Times respectively.
South African ambassadorship and return to South Africa
In August 2009, President Zuma
appointed Leon as Ambassador to Argentina
. After receiving diplomatic training, Leon took up his post in September. Leon followed many DA and Democratic Party members who became ambassadors, such as Harry Schwarz
, Zach de Beer
, Douglas Gibson and Sandra Botha
On his return in January 2013, he was awarded a fellowship at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advance Study (STIAS). He wrote a paper entitledWhere in the World is South Africa?'
which was subsequently published in thSouth African journal of International Affairs, 2013, Vol.20,No.3,447-457
Leon also published a memoir of his ambassadorial life titledThe Accidental Ambassador: From Parliament to Patagonia
(Pan MacMillan, 2013). The book received critical acclaim with Business Day, where it was said to be "fascinating... Leon is an excellent writer and recounter... eloquent and heartwarming." (Sue Grant-Marshall). The Cape Times described the book as "intelligent, engaging and incredibly funny" (Shaun Swingler).
Shortly after former President Nelson Mandela's death in December 2013, Tony Leon published yet another book, this time concerning Mandela's presidency and leadership from the perspective of the parliamentary opposition'Opposite Mandela: Encounters with South Africa's Icon'
was published in May 2014 by Jonathan Ball Publishers. Sue Grant-Marshall in Business Day wrote: "It is no surprise that in the year after Mandela's death a cascade of books by those who know the international icon are flooding the shops and bookshelves. Leave space for this one - it's written from Leon's particular perspective as Mandela's political opponent. It does not disappoint in this, his fourth book, for he tells fascinating tales with characteristic frankness and vigour."
[Sue Grant-Marshall Book Review: Opposite Mandela, Business Day, June 3, 2014 - http://www.bdlive.co.za/life/books/2014/06/03/book-review-opposite-mandela]
In 2000, Leon married Michal (formerly Even-Zahav) from Israel, the mother of his two stepchildren, Noa and Etai Even-Zahav.
External linksDemocratic Alliance websitePersonal websiteOn The Contrary - Tony Leon's latest book Tony Leon's Book at Exclusive BooksSouth African Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina
Category:Alumni of Kearsney College
Category:White South African people
Category:John F. Kennedy School of Government staff
Category:Democratic Alliance (South Africa) politicians
Category:Jewish South African politicians
Category:Members of the National Assembly of South Africa
Category:Progressive Party (South Africa) politicians
Category:Democratic Party (South Africa) politicians
Category:Members of the House of Assembly of South Africa
Category:Ambassadors of South Africa to Argentina
Category:Ambassadors of South Africa to Paraguay
Category:Ambassadors of South Africa to Uruguay