Dr. Phillip David Dexter – A Political Journey

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Dr Phillip David Dexter is a prominent South African politician and activist. He entered politics as a student activist in the 1980s, after which he was forced into exile. On his return he joined the trade union movement, serving as the Secretary General for NEHAWU.

In post Apartheid South Africa, Phillip led the National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC), has been an active member of parliament, has served as the Spokesperson for the political party the Congress of the People (COPE) – which was formed as a result of a split within the ANC. He currently serves as a Director of a number of companies in the mining, energy, property and manufacturing sectors, and he still manages to find the time to run a non profit organisation called Indibano.

About this Conversation

We had a Skype conversation with Phillip from his home in Cape Town.

Phillip, together with other senior members of the African National Congress (ANC), broke away to form a new party, COPE as an alternative to the ANC. He has now rejoined the folds of the ANC and shares with us this political journey.

In this conversation we discuss the factors that contributed to the split within the ANC. Phillip also highlights the subsequent changes that occurred within the ANC and COPE that resulted in his decision to rejoin the ANC. Though not uncritical of the ANC, Phillip believes that that the party best represents his vision and ideals.

He shares his private thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses of the political system in South Africa, the right for people to be able to change allegiances as the political landscape evolves. We discussed the role of political parties and the reason he currently believes that a strong opposition isn’t the answer to maintaining a democratic balance, but rather lobbying of agendas within the ANC

Other issues discussed were on the need for the strengthening of the Left wing agenda. He criticized the Left for not establishing a clear programme of action, as opposed to short term, expedient campaigns. The importance of social media in “democratizing information” was also discussed- which renders in his view some of the discussions around the proposed Protection of Information Bill (POIB) redundant, as information cannot practically be control -and finally on the issue of corruption, which he feels is intrinsic to the capitalist state.

Points of Discussion

  • What has your experience been since your return to the ANC, after leaving to set up COPE?
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  • What did you need from ANC as part of your return?
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  • Would anyone else other than Phillip Dexter have been received back so warmly into the ANC?
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  • What does it say to the citizens about our democracy and voting systems that people can swap and move among parties?
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  • What does it say to the citizens about our democracy and voting systems that people can swap and move among parties?
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  • How does this impact on viable opposition?
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  • If you had the space now to create a new political party after learning from COPE, and the freedom and resources to do so what would be central for you?
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  • Is a political party the only way to affect change in ones life?
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  • In your opinion is our democracy still strong?
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  • Is activism weak or is it dead?
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  • Is there a national identity for South Africans (Phillip references Trevor Noah)?
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  • What is your opinion on the possibility of an Arab Spring taking place in South Africa
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  • Is the ANC out of sync with the youth?
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