Incisive, principled, plain-spoken – Tony Leon, leader of the opposition for eight years, is all that and more. Destined from early life as the son of a High Court Judge to make a major impact as an ironclad liberal, he has nonetheless confronted the challenges of change head-on, leaving the political arena strewn with defeated adversaries and old-style conservatives content to let human rights slip for the sake of an easy life.
On the Contrary records in his finely-focused prose an adventure in ideas that involves vivid, real people – friends, colleagues and enemies alike. Many are household names but readers will be startled at Leon’s fresh approach and grasp of the intricate realities and compromises that go into the making of a politician. There is new light here on many of the figures who have shaped modern South Africa: from the dour Nationalists to the abrasive personalities of the liberation fold.
The themes and personalities that emerge from a half-century of memory and intellectual struggle are unique in our records, told from the centre of events. Almost forensic examination of how corruption has corroded the high ideals of the Constitution is another running theme.
Leon is unafraid of allowing glimpses of his rich, private life; and the brilliance of the book rests in its careful balance of the public and the private and how they nurture each other. A brilliant contribution to South Africa’s ‘history in the making’.