The African National Congress (ANC) rejected yesterday an attempt
by the Democratic Alliance to have its leader Tony Leon debate with
President Thabo Mbeki on national television.
ANC spokesperson Smuts Ngonyama said Mbeki was too busy to engage
with Leon, and further accused the DA of wanting to public debate
to improve its profile.
"The DA's challenge to President Thabo Mbeki to engage in a
televised debate with Tony Leon is nothing more than a transparent
attempt by the DA to elevate the profile and stature of its
"If the leader of the DA wants to improve his image and profile
among South Africans, he should do so on his own account and not
hang onto the coattails of President Mbeki," Ngonyama said in a
Ngonyama said: "If the DA believes that the president's comments
about their policies are incorrect, then they should convince the
people of South Africa to the contrary.
"When the ANC wants to communicate with the people of South Africa
it does so directly with the people," he said.
The ANC's election campaign was about speaking to the people about
the issues that concern them and the programmes that we would be
carried out to meet their needs.
"The ANC is not going to waste its time in meaningless dialogue
with an opposition party that can't be bothered to speak to South
Africans directly, that isn't prepared to engage honestly with
people's concerns, and which still has not forwarded any policy
positions which seriously speak to the challenges facing this
country," Ngonyama said.
Earlier yesterday DA chief whip Douglas Gibson said he was
disappointed that the ANC has refused to publicly engage Leon in a
He said the refusal was a sign of growing presidential arrogance,
disregard for the democratic process, and disrespect for the
Gibson said Mbeki was also taking advantage of the calendar to
elude tough questions.
The current parliamentary session would end on February 27 and
Mbeki would not be attending Parliament for the purpose of
presidential question time, and would not be available to answer
questions or for debate before the election.
"In a modern democracy this is an unacceptably long period," Gibson
said in a statement, dismissing Ngonyama's assertion that Mbeki was
"too busy" to debate with Leon and had "better things to do" as
Before the 1994 election former president Nelson Mandela found the
time to debate with then president FW de Klerk on television.
During the 1996 election in the US President Bill Clinton debated
with his Republican rival, Bob Dole, he said.
Last year Nigerian President Olusegun Abasanjo was prepared to
debate with his main challenger in the Nigerian presidential
All these leaders were able to find the time to debate their rivals
because they recognised the centrality of such a contest to the
"It is only Thabo Mbeki who does not have the time, or the courage,
to engage in public debate.
"By running away from a debate with Tony Leon, Mbeki is running
away from the voters of South Africa.
"It is time he stopped, stood his ground, and defended his record
as president and the policies his government has implemented,"
Gibson said. – Sapa.