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Wesley Seale: Leon’s effort to evoke extremists is beneath him

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International Relations minister Naledi Pandor’s name is among those being punted for the ANC’s premier candidate in the Western Cape. (Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images)

Wesley Seale responds to Tony Leon’s critique on Naledi Pandor, which, he writes, is simply trying to evoke extremists and is beneath him. 

With a hint of irony, the words of the Russian writer and Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn came to mind when I read Tony Leon’s piece, titled: “Are Pandor’s Iran comments just ignorance, indifference or wilful blindness?

Solzhenitsyn wrote:

We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because this is more comfortable.

Almost immediately, the question of Pontius Pilate, so often quoted by my grandmother and especially poignant at this sacred time of the Christian year, haunts: “Veritas? Qui veritas est? (Truth? What is truth?).”

One might wonder if Pilate posed that question because, confronted by an angry mob baying for blood, the truth in that context indeed was uncomfortable. It was more comfortable for Pilate to err.

Confronted by an electorate angry with the DA in the Western Cape, one must wonder if Ambassador Leon, too, finds the truth more than a little uncomfortable.

Democratic Alliance threatened in its stronghold

The truth about Ambassador Leon’s column is that it comes at a time when the same polling that he relies on in his opinion article may suggest as well that the DA has peaked electorally, at 59% in 2014, in the Western Cape, and given its drop to 55% in 2019.

The DA is only going one way in the Western Cape. Down. This is the truth of the matter.

If Ambassador Leon refers to the DA as “another major party” then he must implicitly acknowledge that despite its 28% showing in the last provincial elections, the African National Congress remains “a major party” in the Western Cape.

READ | SATURDAY PROFILE: Naledi Pandor – The minister who took on Israel and won – sort of

The choosing of the ANC’s premier candidate is best left to the internal processes of the ANC, but so strategic was the ANC in the Western Cape that the mere nomination of Naledi Pandor as a premier candidate has the old guard (Ambassador Leon et al) of the DA sitting up. One must not be surprised if, in the coming weeks, Helen Zille gets more involved publicly in the DA’s campaign in the Western Cape.

The DA’s premier candidate for the Western Cape, Alan Winde, does not stand a chance against Pandor and this is the DA nerve the ANC has twitched in the province.

The truth is visible at a glance, but for Leon to err is much more comfortable.

DA acquiring this base

Let us not forget that Leon and his ilk were in this position before, in 1999.

The ANC in the Western Cape was on an upward trend, and together with the verligtes in the New National Party, they were consolidating communities behind, making the Western Cape a more equal and just society to live in.

The verkramptes in the NNP would hear nothing of this because they were more interested, like their counterparts in the then Democratic Party, in perpetuating past privileges.

On the back of the swart gevaar tactics employed by the then National Party in 1994, especially among white and coloured communities, the same Leon headed up the DP/DA’s 1999 election campaign “fight back”.

In fact, Leon shows his past hand when he writes that, according to Karl Marx, “class interests are more determinative of voting preferences than other concerns. And in the Western Cape and the country at large, ethnic identity politics often trumps religion in preferencing voter choice.”

Not surprised that the liberal Leon quotes Marx or that he gives a brief analysis of the political trends of black Congress-people in the United States: the fact remains that Leon and the DA realise all too well that class and race are too important factors to ignore in an election, especially if a party is in trouble.

The DA old guard know that if you whip up the fears of working-class coloured and white communities you will muster enough swart gevaar to consolidate the coloured and white vote.

How else will the DA win back the working-class Muslim vote that they have lost through their wicked, disgraceful stance on Palestinian lives other than to inflame fears?

It was concerningly comfortable for Leon to err then in 1999. Today, he is comfortable doing the same by employing these same scarecrow tactics in his arguments against Pandor.

South Africa, ANC and United States relations

The ANC’s, and therefore South Africa’s, foreign policy, like that of the United States, irrespective of whether Democrat or Republican, is not immune to the vicissitudes of geopolitics.

The 2008/9 global economic meltdown and then, just as we were recovering, the onset of Covid-19 and its concomitant lockdowns saw the rise of political extremes globally.

Journalist Steve Richards wrote a seminal book in 2017 titled, The Rise of the Outsiders: How Mainstream Politics Lost its Way, which highlights this global phenomenon of politics moving towards the extremes.

Those of us studying South African politics would suggest that the dip in support for both mainstream, and dare we add “centre”, parties, such as the ANC and the DA, would be a result of this shift towards the margins.

READ | ‘No place for the spectre of apartheid and ultra-racists’, EFF tells DA on Powers Bill

Yet it would seem that, in their appeal to arrest this dip in support, instead of moving more towards the centre and moderate politics, the DA is moving towards the right, even out-righting the right.

Their introduction of the Provincial Powers Bill in the Western Cape is a case in point. It was the Freedom Front Plus that initially introduced a similar Bill, but after the DA had had its say, the Bill was even more freedom front plus than the Freedom Front Plus had envisioned.

This extremism is exercised by Leon when he errs in pointing out the extreme of US politics. The truth is that US and SA domestic as well as foreign policy are much more nuanced and balanced.

But as with the swart gevaar tactics he and his party employed with the verkramptes of the National Party then, and in the Western Cape in particular, he now employs the same tactics in US-SA relations.

American media and Israel-Palestine conflict

While Leon may be correct to be concerned about the views of the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and the New York Times (NYT), particularly with respect to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, it is important to note that the Biden administration itself is fast running out of patience with the Netanyahu regime.

As the WSJ was publishing their editorial which Leon heavily relies on, the US abstained in a United Nations Security Council vote which allowed the passing of a resolution calling for a lasting ceasefire, specifically during the holy month of Ramadaan.

READ | Oscar van Heerden: A Rubicon has been crossed in the Israel-Gaza conflict

So enraged was the response of the Netanyahu regime that they cancelled a delegation visit to Washington which was supposed to meet with US President Joe Biden.

As with the opposing ideologies of the WSJ and NYT, which Leon also points out, Biden’s ideological foe has also subsequently expressed his loss of patience with Israel.

A longtime ally of the apartheid state and current White House frontrunner, former president Donald Trump, said in an interview in the Israeli daily Israel Hayom, “you have to finish up your war”.

Trump continued: “Israel has to be very careful, because you’re losing a lot of the world, you’re losing a lot of support.”

For both men to make such moves during a highly contested election campaign is significant. For both of them and their respective constituencies, this indicates indignation with Israel, which has reached new lows.

South Africa’s geo-political stances

In order to attack Pandor, Leon needs to suggest South Africa’s foreign policy is actually Pandor’s foreign policy.

Insofar as the Russia-Ukraine conflict is concerned, South Africa’s position has been one of non-alignment. It is Leon and co who wish to perpetuate Cold War creeds.

While the government, in the opening paragraph of its application to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), was emphatic in condemning Hamas for the 7 October attacks on Israel, Leon and the rest of the old guard refuse to acknowledge the 32 000 people, and counting, killed by Israel since 7 October 2023. Independent sources have verified that the majority of these lives were women and children.

Despite the interim ruling of the ICJ, Israel has continued to defy international law. There has not been a whisper from Leon about the disregard for the rule of law by Israel.

Instead, he wishes to shift the focus to Iran. Not even Saudi Arabia comes under Leon’s attention.

Your enemies do not have to be our enemies

When we recently met a delegation from the US Congress in Cape Town, we emphasised the sentiments of Madiba when, in that townhall meeting with Ted Koppel in 1990, he insisted that the enemies of the US do not have to be the enemies of South Africa.

We insisted to that delegation that just as we respected US policy positions, even if they harmed South Africa and even though we would try to convince them otherwise, we would appreciate them respecting our policy positions.

The truth is not difficult for Leon to see, but for him to err is much more comfortable.

Opinions editor Vanessa Banton curates the best opinions and analysis of the week to give you a broader view on daily news happenings.

But what we do not need in South Africa are for senior, seasoned and, one would want to think, moderate leaders such as Leon to fuel extremists both here and in the United States.

Even more so, we do not need him to be attacking Pandor with swart gevaar tactics simply because the ANC is practising democracy and considering her to be a premier candidate. That should be beneath him.

– Wesley Seale is a member of the ANC’s provincial executive committee in the Western Cape. He is also a member of the international relations sub-committee. He writes in his personal capacity. 

Published in News24