Monday, November 3, 2008

Voices of the SANC: Philip Dexter

QPQ interviews Philip Dexter, SA National Convention steering committee member on 1st November 2008, 16h58 at the Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg.

Former SACP treasurer and ANC MP, Philip Dexter (right) speaks to blogger David Ansara at the SA National Convention. Dexter discusses the state of the ANC since the Polokwane conference of December 2007 and what has led some of its members to join the breakaway movement. Other topics include the removal of President Thabo Mbeki, the role of the media in representing the split, as well as the demographic makeup of the new party.


DA: This is David Ansara for Quid Pro Quo. We're here with Philip Dexter who's one of the leaders of the convention. Mr. Dexter, tell us what is the feeling on the ground here today, the atmosphere? Describe what you see, what you feel.

PD: Well, I think there is a great deal of excitement, I'm certainly excited. It's been a wonderful occasion, a great deal of enthusiasm. Thankfully no intimidation, no violence, none of those problems. But I think also there's a feeling of sadness because if the ANC had played its role as a liberation movement this convention wouldn't have been necessary. Or if it had been necessary it would have been convened by the ANC. So, you know, for me personally I have mixed feelings but I've accepted that that's the reality and we have to move forward.

DA: If somebody who was living in August of 2008 had to be teleported to the 1st of November 2008 they'd be very surprised to see how things have turned out. Do you think that there was a schismatic moment or a catalyst that changed things? Or has this been an ongoing process?

PD: I think that it has been an ongoing process but it's been an accumulative one and I think a couple of things that happened which were the proverbial straws that break the camel's back. One of them was the removal of Premier Ebrahim Rassool in the Western Cape. The other was the removal of Thabo Mbeki as the President of the Republic. Then finally the Western Cape provincial conference of the ANC in which there was massive fraud and vote-rigging. I think those three things just caused a sentiment that certainly enough was enough. I think an attempt was made to communicate that to the leadership of the ANC and the ANC leadership didn't respond, in fact they condoned these things, they tried to justify them. And the dishonesty on their part has continued. If you look at the response to Thabo Mbeki's letter and the attempt to manipulate that. And this is the problem, I think there is now a lack of trust between those people and the general population. In short, I think that the ANC has offended the nation.

DA: Offended the nation… Obviously Polokwane was a massive watershed. Do you think things could have been done differently since last December to have maybe limited the damage that has been caused?

PD: Absolutely, all of us who were at Polokwane accepted the outcome of the conference. That's why I'm saying there would have been no factionalist response, no attempt to remove people from office, all of these kinds of interventions. I think life would have continued pretty much as it had been up until then. With hindsight perhaps it's not such a bad thing because I think people showed their true colours early on and it's given us an opportunity to organise a response. You see that response here in the room today.

DA: We were talking about the former President of South Africa earlier and he's remained somewhat detached from this convention. Besides his letter, which you mentioned as well, what do you make of that? Do you think that's an ambivalence or is it perhaps strategic?

PD: Well I think that his letter was very clear: that he's not part of this process. My view is that we should leave President Mbeki alone. I think what was done to him was terrible and he's probably got a lot to work through on his own. He said that he's got projects of his own and I think we should let him get on with those.

DA: Okay, let's also talk about the role of the media. The ANC is often very quick to criticize the media, what kind of role do think they have played in representing the issues, of placing emphasis on certain issues, of suggesting crises where there are none?

PD: I think that's true. I do think that South Africa has a vibrant, free press and the media and I think that that's a good thing. Obviously people have agendas in the media. The point is if you're an organization you must respond to that and be proactive. I don't think howling at the media, shouting at them, or trying to regulate them about the role they can play will do anybody any good. The thing is, this is a modern society and media communication is essential to any organization, whether it be a business, political party a trade union. So if people can't get their act together then they only have themselves to blame.

DA: You're from the Western Cape, Mr Dexter. It seems to be a strong platform for this new possible breakaway organization. Do you think that the support base might be limited to the broader Cape region? What are the plans for trying to extend the reach of the convention to all South Africans?

PD: I don't think that at all. Particular events started in the Western Cape, but we have representation from every province in South Africa; from every district, from all walks of life, so that's not a challenge at all. The challenge is going to be to put the institutional framework in place and the machinery. As you see, the response is overwhelming.

DA: And in terms of the socio-economic make up of most of the delegates and the attendants here, do you think that the appeal is exclusively towards middle class or professional people or is there a wide base?

PD: That's not true at all. There's been an attempt to portray this as some kind of elitist motion and they tend to caricature leaders of this process in a particular way. But it's quite clear, if I look at the delegates here - many of whom I know - they come from COSATU, they come from the civics, there are others who I haven't met previously who are workers, who are unemployed. So the idea that this is an elite thing, you only have to look at the hall yourself…

DA: Thank you Mr Dexter, it was a pleasure talking with you this afternoon.

PD: Thanks.


Photo by Jared Jeffrey


  1. Nice interview.

    I think Philip is going to be disappointing as forces outside of his control makes this new party a middle class one.

    Also interesting to note what the Business Day said about Rasool today, describing his sacking as one of the signs that the ANC is now responsive.

  2. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of working class people who were there. It really was a heterogeneous group.

    SADC will target middle class groups but their greatest coup would be to appeal to a broad cross-section of all South Africans. On this note, much to my joy - and slight embarrassment - I ran into my old domestic worker from Cape Town, which was interesting as she would often tell me emotional stories of how her family suffered under apartheid. For someone like her to desert the ANC is remarkable - and I only met her last year so plenty has changed over a short space of time.

    I suppose on the Rassool question, he was deeply unpopular among (certain sections of) the ANC in the WC and his removal could be seen as a response to that sentiment. Sometimes trundling along as if nothing is wrong is worse than purging - even if the latter raises some people's ire.