Well, we didn't kiss - Leon

By Boyd Webb Time of article published May 4, 2007

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"What advice should he give me?" President Thabo Mbeki jestingly wanted to know when outgoing Democratic Alliance leader Tony Leon paid a courtesy call to the Union Buildings.

The president, with a humorous sparkle in the eye, was responding to a media question to Leon on whether he would urge Mbeki not to stand for a third term as ANC president.

Last week, the outgoing DA leader said it would be ruinous for the country if Mbeki did so.

Leon replied that he had not given the president any advice, while Mbeki noted that the opposition leader had not been given a chance to do so as their meeting had yet to take place.

Mbeki turned the tables on journalists: "But what advice would you like to give Mr Leon?"

Thursday's meeting, historic in that it was the first official talks between Leon as opposition leader and Mbeki as president, lasted more than an hour.

Leon later described the meeting as warm and cordial, but refused to say what they spoke about.

Relations between the two leaders are known to have been strained for years, with each levelling brutal criticism at the other.

This is illustrated, for example, by correspondence between the two over Aids, as well as differences over racism and Zimbabwe.

A DA insider said Mbeki and Leon used to be in regular contact when Mbeki was the deputy president.

"They often used to send notes to each other in the House," he said, but noted that once Mbeki became president, the relationship cooled.

It appears to have taken Leon's resignation for things to seemingly thaw between them.

Asked if the two had kissed and made up, Leon answered with an impish grin: "Well, we didn't kiss.

"I think the government and the opposition have legitimate and obvious differences, but I think it's useful that they chew the fat as they did today - it's something that should happen more in the future."

While having a good relationship with the government should not be the first duty of an opposition party leader, it was a "worthwhile thing to have".

"When I took over my party we had an excellent relationship with the various presidents, but it didn't really help the party to grow.

"Sometimes you have to grow your base and be able to deal with your voters," he said, but added there were certain national questions which should be discussed and agreed upon.

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