Tony Leon on South Africa’s Foreign Policy


Last Thursday, South African opposition leader Tony Leon addressed students and faculty from the Law School, the Kennedy School and the College on the subject of South Africa’s foreign policy. The event, sponsored by the Harvard African Law Association (HALA), drew a large audience to the second floor of Harkness Commons for the speech and the lively question-and-answer session that followed.

Leon acknowledged South Africa’s foreign policy achievements since the African National Congress took office in 1994. These included, he said, successful intervention to end conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi. However, South Africa had failed to intervene in Zimbabwe, and had built links with a large number of rogue states, including Libya, Iran and North Korea.

Similarly, at the United Nations, South Africa had declined to support various human rights causes in recent years, Leon said. As a newly-appointed temporary member of the UN Security Council, South Africa had voted against a resolution condemning human rights abuses in Myanmar (Burma). It had also failed to show up at a meeting of the General Assembly that voted to condemn Holocaust denial.

Leon argued that South Africa was failing to live up to former President Nelson Mandela’s vision for South Africa’s post-apartheid foreign policy. Mandela had set out his vision in an article published in the November/December 1993 issue of Foreign Affairs, on the eve of South Africa’s first democratic elections, “We have always embraced the cry for democracy across the world and South Africa will therefore be at the forefront of global efforts to promote and foster democratic systems of government…. South Africa’s future foreign relations will be based on our belief that human rights should be the core of international relations.”

Instead, Leon said, South Africa’s “schizophrenic” policy “has all but obliterated the moral high ground we struggled so hard to achieve through our transition to democracy.”

Taking questions from the floor, Leon defended his party’s approach to affirmative action, saying that the centrist Democratic Alliance (DA) was in favor of affirmative action but opposed to the government’s quota system. Since taking over Cape Town in the March 2006 municipal elections, the DA had eliminated racial quotas while actually increasing the number of black-owned firms winning city contracts, he said.

Leon is stepping down from his post in early May, though he will remain an MP. A video recording of his address will soon be available at the HALA website.

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