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SAF Democratic Alliance Leader to Step Down

Tony Leon, who led South Africa’s main opposition party for 13 years, has announced he’s stepping down as chairman of the Democratic Alliance.

VOA reporter Delia Robertson is following the story. From Johannesburg, she spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua.

“He said that he has made the decision to announce his retirement as party leader in the light of his commitment to the party and its internal stability. He said that if he had waited to make the announcement until the party congress in May 2007 it could have occasioned a great deal of speculation in the party and in the public, which would have been detrimental,” she says.

Leon’s leadership style may have been a factor in his leaving. Robertson says, “There has been a lot of speculation in recent times that he was really no longer suitable to be leader of the party because of his style of leadership and because of his style of conducting opposition politics. There are people within the party and outside the party who feel that his style is extremely abrasive and confrontational and actually inappropriate in a leader so soon after South Africa’s transition to democracy.”

During his reign, Leon presided over the merger of his Democratic Party with the former ruling National Party to form the Democratic Alliance. Despite its liberal image, many observers say the DA has become much more conservative and has difficulty attracting black votes.

Right now, the leading contender to replace Leon as party chairman is Helen Zille, mayor of Cape Town.