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Tony Leon PDF Print E-mail

Tony Leon (1956 - ) is a Durban-born writer. He has written autobiographies that draw mainly from his experiences in politics. For nearly twenty years Leon was a Member of Parliament in South Africa, and for thirteen years he led the Democratic Alliance. He is the longest serving Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, since the advent of democracy in April 1994. He led and grew his party from its marginal position on the brink of political extinction into the second largest political force in South Africa.

Leon later went on to serve as South Africa’s ambassador to Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, nominated by President Jacob Zuma, from August 2009 to October 2012. He recently returned to South Africa, and is consulting to business in South America and South Africa, writing a column for Business Day and speaking to various audiences.

A trained lawyer, Leon actively participated in the critical constitutional negotiations that led to the birth of a democratic South Africa. He has been at the forefront of national and international events, both as a front-ranking parliamentarian and renowned orator and writer and as a Vice-President of Liberal International. He has addressed many international conferences, institutes and think tanks from the Council on Foreign Relations (Washington DC, and New York City) and the Royal Institute for International Affairs (Chatham House), London, to the German Council on Foreign Relations, Berlin, the European Parliament in Brussels and to the World Economic Forum in South Africa.

Leon’s autobiographies have garnered much critical praise and several accolades. Marian L. Tupy (of the Cato Institute) described On the Contrary as a “funny, self-deprecating, informative, and insightful” piece of literature that “should be widely read”. Tracey McDonald appreciated how The Accidental Ambassador “showcases [Leon’s] wit and sense of humour”. Gorry Bowes Taylor also enjoyed the book’s humour and the examination of Leon’s experiences as an ambassador. Biz News’s Alec Hogg and Books and Book’s both commended the content of Opposite Mandela. Hogg called the book a “gem” and praised its “unique insights into an unexplored aspect of the Presidency and leadership of Nelson Mandela”. Books and Books found Opposite Mandelainsightful, and simultaneously serious and amusing” in its review, going on to laud the way it “lifts the veil on many unknown or unexplained benchmarks” during Mandela’s tenure as president. Leon’s work has been longlisted for the Sunday Times Alan Paton Award twice; in 2009 for On the Contrary and in 2014 for The Accidental Ambassador. In 2009 On the Contrary won Via Afrika’s prestigious “Recht Malan Prize” for nonfiction.

Beyond his autobiographies, Leon has been widely published in academic journals and in the media. He has authored articles for Time Magazine, The Spectator, Harvard International Review, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Financial Times, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Daily Telegraph. After standing down from the leadership of the opposition in 2007, he was awarded a Fellowship at the Institute of Politics, John F Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. In 2008 he was invited as a fellow to the Cato Institute in Washington DC, where he published a paper on liberal democracy in Africa.

Nelson Mandela said of Tony Leon, on his retirement from political leadership (2007): “your contribution to democracy is enormous. You have more support for all you have done than you might ever read about.”


Twitter: @TonyLeonSA

Selected Work

Excerpt from On the Contrary - Leading the Opposition in a Democratic South Africa (2008:16):

Of course, we had the skins of privilege, and my father's burgeoning legal practice - supplemented by Granny Ray's material generosity. We has all the accoutrements of an advantaged elite: weekends at the Oyster Box hotel in nearby Umhlanga Rocks, holidays in the mountains of the Drakensberg and in Johannesburg; a legion of servants and nannies; and the effortless assumption that a private-school education could ensure that 'the blessings' (as our parents called us) would be insulated against the travails of Christian National Education then being imposed by the Nats on the public schools - promising us the best kind of life as scions of the elect.

Nevertheless, the political climate into which I was born was not simply set by the National Party's grim and benighted legislative railroad. There was, too, African resistance. My first conscious awareness of politics was when my brother and I stood on the veranda of our house on the crest of South Ridge Road and excitedly watched South African Defence Force Saracens, or armoured cars, on their way to subdue the densely populated African township of Cato Manor, which practically bordered the leafy salubrious area in which we lived. To a four-year-old and his brother, this was all a game, like war or a sophisticated version of the cops-and-robbers we played at nursery school. In fact it was the deadly face and force of the government imposing the first state of emergency since the advent of National Party rule. It was 1960.


1998. Hope and Fear - Reflections of a Democrat. Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball Publishers.

2008. On the Contrary - Leading the Opposition in a Democratic South Africa. Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball Publishers.

2013. The Accidental Ambassador -From Parliament to Patagonia. Johannesburg: Pan Macmillan.

2014. Opposite Mandela - Encounters with South Africa's Icon. Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball Publishers.