Marius Redelinghuys
Marius Redelinghuys

ANC conservative nationalism and ambidextrous politicians – Open Letter to Phillip Dexter

Dear Dr Dexter,

The formal style of address may seem cold and harsh but I cannot bring myself to refer to you as comrade or Phillip, as I have always done. The man who sat so smugly next to Marius Fransman yesterday, singing the praises of the ANC was not the one I fought alongside and defended during our time in the Congress of the People (Cope).

I also write to you, publicly, as you are still a public representative that my vote, and the vote of a significant number of others, put there to be our voice. While the flawed proportional representation and party list system does not facilitate direct accountability and representation, you were once a vocal campaigner for the cause and battle you have now abandoned.

You also chose to make your crossing a public spectacle by being paraded by the ANC as the lost sheep having found its way home. Understandably so, there would have been no gain for the ANC if you had simply gone back “home” quietly and with your tail between your legs. Your decision to make it a media circus was made knowing you were inviting public discussion, debate and scrutiny.

In the first instance, I do not blame you for leaving Cope. When I discussed my own exit from the party with you I knew it was only a matter of time before you too would abandon the sinking ship that once was the political alternative for 1.3-million South Africans. We both know that your diagnosis of the state of that party, as having “descended into an unparalleled chaos, of infighting, factionalism, maladministration and even corruption”, hits the nail on the head.

Then again, you’ve always had a knack for providing insight in and diagnoses of the political affairs of our country, particularly with regard to your newly rediscovered political home. I too remember how you, not nine months ago, described the ANC and its alliance partners as having “been reduced to being, at least partially, if not substantially, vehicles for patronage, primitive accumulation, corruption and excess”.

In lining up a “fantasy Left Cabinet”1 it is not surprising that Richard Calland once placed the “political savvy and persuasive Dexter” at the helm of the public enterprises portfolio. Your political savvy and way with words have given us political gems like “Z.E.E.” and a colourful reference sheet right here on this very platform.

Who can forget your emphatic announcement that “the policies of the ANC do not address the challenges people face”, or my personal favourite, the charge that “the project that brought [Jacob] Zuma to power was masterminded by organised criminals who pose as politicians.”

Gavin Davis, highlighting these and other recent pearls of wisdom you’ve bestowed upon the public, contends that you’re politically bankrupt. I find it very difficult to disagree with that assertion.

To be clear, having discussed it with you previously, I didn’t expect you to join “The Blue House”, as Themba asked me on Twitter. I naïvely believed you’d take a break from politics this year, 20Self as some call it, to deal with the “private matters” that prompted your leave of absence from Cope.

However, what shocked me the most was probably your half-arsed ideological defence for not being able to join the Democratic Alliance [DA]. As Quinton Mtyala reported, you can’t work with the DA because you’re not a liberal.

The DA aside, I am disgusted that you denounce the term liberal as if you have no idea of its true meaning. I’m not referring to the populist rhetoric so readily peddled by the likes of your newly rediscovered comrades who selectively use neo-liberalism2 as an umbrella term for everything liberal. I’m referring to core ideals of liberalism as ideology which includes freedom, reason, justice, toleration and diversity3. I’m further referring to the very foundation of our post-Apartheid South Africa firmly rooted in liberal ideals of constitutional government, democracy and the rule of law4 and even modern variants of the ideology embracing social liberalism and economic management5.

These are ideals and principles entrenched in our Bill of Rights and the Constitution more broadly. A document that you, and I, deemed necessary to defend, entrench and advance as we declared ‘in defence of our Constitution’ in 2009.

Instead, you reject this in favour of the increasing paternalism and conservative nationalism championed by the ruling clique in the ANC. With the centenary on the doorstep, the ANC will only continue to “appeal to tradition and history” in a narrow nationalist and exclusivist way to defend “traditional institutions and a traditional way of life”.

I find it unfortunate that you, as a self-styled leftist, willingly embrace the ANC at a time when the predominant thinking is “essentially nostalgic and backward looking” reflecting upon a past age of glory and triumph, using ritual and commemoration to present past victories as defining moments in our history 6.

Having worked with and for you, having learned a lot from you, I considered you a keen analyst and ideologue. Political bankruptcy is one thing but ideological bankruptcy, from a man of your intellectual stature, is unfortunate.

Pretending that the ANC is a broad and accommodating church is a convenient cop out, you and I both know that there has been a fundamental paradigm, value and culture shift in the party since the mid-2000s and nothing new has happened since we left that inspires enough confidence, for me at least, to wish to return.

It is also a convenient excuse to pretend that the issues plaguing the ANC can be remedied from within.

You also know that the ANC has been reduced to a mere shadow of its former glory, now characterised by internal ideological inconsistency and incoherence, policies that do not address our society’s challenges and the erosion in the quality of its leadership. It is also marked by the development of a disgusting organisational and political culture, factionalism, the degradation of both the space for and quality of internal debate and the failure of internal procedures and processes to remedy the situation. Then there is of course the “primitive accumulation, excess and corruption” which you’ve already identified.

All of this has produced a toxic mix that cannot be fixed from the inside without the amputation of cancerous growths, a healthy dose of reality and a harsh wake up call.

Again it was you who advocated for “deepening our multiparty democracy by increasing alternative voice to the ruling party”.

Have you abandoned this quest? Do you now share Ngoako Ramatlhodi and Gwede Mantashe’s views of our Constitution?

I respect your political decision, as you respect mine, but I cannot help feel betrayed in the light of these glaring political and ideological inconsistencies, all a matter of public record.

Steven is perplexed by the fact that I took the news of your return so badly. I asked him to proofread this and he thought I was being too harsh. I know you’ve endured worse from your “comrades” in both Cope and the ANC. Unlike many of those, I did consider you a mentor and good friend but your sudden change of colours has left me saddened, hurt and feeling like I hardly knew you.

I’ll be back in Cape Town next week, perhaps we should have that drink soon.


1 Calland, R. 2006. “Anatomy of South Africa: Who Holds the Power?” Cape Town: Zebra Press.
2 Neo-Liberalism: An updated version of classical political economy that is dedicated to market individualism and minimal statism (Heywood 2005: 336).
3 Heywood, A. 2005. Political Ideologies: An Introduction (Third Edition). New York: Palgrave-Macmillan; pp. 30 – 39.
4 Ibid., pp. 41 – 47
5 Ibid., pp. 60 – 62
6 Ibid., pp. 173 – 174

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