Meet the ladies' man...

Time of article published Aug 11, 2008

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By Angela Quintal

Former DA leader Tony Leon has declared that unlike Bill Clinton, he did inhale and, like the womanising ex-US president, he too was a bit of a ladies' man.

Leon writes candidly about his private life in his autobiography On the Contrary, including his relationship with former Miss South Africa Michelle Bruce, who was separated from her husband, lawyer Ian Stern, when they met.

"Michelle Bruce was undoubtedly the most beautiful woman I had ever seen in the flesh," Leon writes.

On the eve of the first democratic election, Bruce was at his Johannesburg home when Stern demanded entry and confronted them with "a string of epithets and threats".

"At that moment of maximum vulnerability, I confided in a most impressive and astute VIP security officer, whom the state had thoughtfully assigned to me for the campaign.

"While Rory Steyn went on to great heights as head of President Mandela's security detachment, his presence then was to keep me safe from political wild men."

Steyn sat Stern down for a cup of coffee on election day and his "formidable powers of personal and physical persuasion lessened the immediate hostility".

Leon, who in 1988 was labelled a "Delicious Hunk" by the Sunday Times, "brazenly" decided to take Bruce to Mandela's inauguration.

Despite the presence of luminaries such as Hillary Clinton, Yasser Arafat, Benazir Bhutto and Prince Phillip, "Michelle and I drew a disproportionate amount of papa-razzi attention", he writes.

The same newspaper that boosted his ego six years' before wrote that weekend that he had arrived with "another man's wife on his arm", but that both "Mr Leon and Mrs Stern have denied they are having an affair".

"Quite what I was thinking I cannot fathom. We 'outed' ourselves at the most visible public event yet seen in SA.

"The narrow, technical verbal contortions that Bill Clinton later made infamous (Monica Lewinsky affair) matched my statement of denial to the Sunday Times," Leon writes

Another married woman, Michal Even-Zahev, eventually become his wife in late 2000. He first met the vivacious Israeli in 1991, but it was after the June 1996 municipal election, when he travelled to Tel Aviv, that he found that she was separated from her husband.

They arranged a romantic date at a restaurant in Jaffa and, as they later strolled along the promenade, "I knew that in Michal lay the end of my quest for a partner".

They conducted a long-distance relationship, via phone and fax, snatching meetings all over the world when possible.

In a foot note, Leon admits to an unromantic proposal over the telephone while standing in London's Covent Garden, after Michal called to say her divorce had been granted.

Leon also uses his autobiography to try to set the record straight about his father, Judge Raymond Leon, who sentenced Andrew Zondo, the Amanzimtoti bomber, to death after no extenuating circumstances were found.

"Zondo became a cause celebre, not simply because the ANC saw him as a martyr, but also because it assisted their demonisation of me," he writes.

Leon acknowledges that he had often wondered whether there was merit in the ANC's attack on his father's judgment, which "contrasted with a long line of liberal decisions".

He says his father had been against the death penalty but "if the law prescribed the maximum penalty, then he was duty-bound to impose it".

His father told him that on the rare occasion when he did impose it, it made him physically ill.

While the Zondo case was a subject of debate for over 20 years, another of his father's decisions in 1985 (the Hurley judgment) had far-reaching consequences - particularly for the thousands of detainees arrested and held incommunicado under the state of emergency proclaimed if that year.

Judge Leon declared the detention of Gerald Patrick Kearney, following his arrest in terms of the Internal Security Act 74 of 1982, to be unlawful.

The judgment was acclaimed by law scholars throughout South Africa and was a decisive blow in favour of the liberty of the individual, Leon writes.

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