A reply to Terry Bell - Phillip Dexter

Business Report column on launch of Indibano Foundation a hatchet job

A response to Terry Bell's attack on the Indibano Foundation - Phillip Dexter

It is unfortunate that I have to respond to the extraordinary personal attacks on the Indibano trustees made by Terry Bell in his weekly column (Business Report 14 February 2011). What a hatchet job!

In politics one expects this kind of shameless skullduggery. It goes with the territory. However one does not expect such shoddy journalism from the Independent Group.

Bell, a man with a dubious political history, is well known for renting out his services to whoever pays him as a freelance writer. His column, while sometimes insightful, suffers from extremes of biased reporting and dabs of Bell's own bizarre brand of anachronistic Marxism, particularly when the subjects do not meet "Comrade" Bell's rigid doctrinaire and outdated preudo-Marxist standards, and more so when they have not followed the line of the "revolutionary" political thought he espouses.

The question is, who pays for this drivel? Just who are Bell's paymasters?

The "article" Bell wrote about the launch of Indibano is full of innuendo, gossip, inaccuracies, distortions and downright lies. Reminiscent of the style of the former apartheid regime, Bell wrote the piece without even asking me or any of the other trustees for their comment or to check the facts. It's this kind of "journalism" that leads to calls for media tribunals!

True to form, Bell also did not disclose the sources he used, though they are known to us. One of them was, and may well still be a paid informant for a foreign government. One is a person formerly intimately involved in my life who has made it their mission to trash every bit of my career and my reputation. The other is a person who has been precious about the fact that Indibano threatens to expose their own failure to utilise vast resources at their disposal to tackle some of the developmental challenges our country faces.

But enough of Bell's dubious sources. Let's correct the facts and respond to some of the more distasteful things Bell has said.

1. If journalists were not invited to the event, how did Bell, who claims to be a journalist, get to know of the event? Clearly, he is simply not telling the truth here.

2. The circumstances of Theron being victimised at FAWU were far more complicated than Bell's caricature. Bell was, until Theron became an Indibano trustee, sympathetic to the stance Theron had taken against corruption in his former union.

3. Bernard Joseph is still a NEHAWU member.

4. I did not "admit" anything about MSR or claim that I have ever spoken to them. I said we were well aware of the initiative and would, in due course, engage with all organisations in the same sectors who wanted to work with Indibano. MSR have no monopoly on addressing the challenge of casual work, just as Bell has no monopoly on describing himself as a Marxist.

5. I said casual workers who wanted to join existing trade unions or to form their own would be encouraged to do so.

6. I did not say that the CWP had been canvassed with Moeletsi Mbeki. I said that the idea of establishing Indibano had been canvassed with a number of people, Mbeki being one of them. I named some of the others as well.

7. Thomas Poese is not responsible for building any trade union. He simply remarked that the idea of it had huge support.

8. The green car initiative was not introduced as the brainchild of Patrick Sagaspe. I said that he had suggested a particular vehicle that he had come across in Europe as a possible initiative to Indibano.

9. I made no such statements about my interest in Urafields. Bell's insistence on raising what he believes are my private financial interests is ridiculous, since I am an MP and disclose all of these anyway. My private financial matters have nothing to do with Indibano in any case.

10.  What the relevance of informing the public about my relationship with one of the trustees is, beggars belief. How can someone, who claims to be a progressive person, raise such irrelevant details?

11.  Bell has not even read my PhD thesis and it has no relevance to Indibano. To use informal conversation as information for this article in that way is really underhand, but then that is Bell's style.

But what could be behind Bell's vitriol? Who would any progressive person attack an initiative of other South Africans aimed at doing something positive for our country? Voluntary organisations contribute an enormous amount of money, support, initiative and generally positive influence on our society. The reason for his slander, innuendo and use of idle gossip as fact lie in Bell's own failed activist career and his cynical desire to make a buck. Bell has for years criticized any political or social initiative he was not part of, or anyone who has achieved anything positive in these fields, in his desperate attempts to advance his own failed political "career" and to ingratiate himself with those he churns out propaganda for.

Skulking around organizations in his Trotsky dress up costume, Bell has acted in in an alternatively obsequious or arrogant fashion, depending on the opportunity at hand. Bell has fallen foul of people in the ANC, SACP, COSATU unions, COPE and just about any other organisation he has tried to associate with. For the record, Bell welcomed the formation of COPE and even attended some of the initial events. Today he slurs me as being part of what he alleges is a COPE faction.

Bell reported on the corruption I and others exposed in the unions and the SACP. Today he regards me as having a chequered career and launches this co-ordinated attack with shadowy individuals who post my personal financial information and personal details on Facebook.

Bell attended the initial meetings of the independent trade union he refers to and even gave an input advising it how to proceed with defeating COSATU, NACTU and FEDUSA! Now he scorns those involved in this initiative, who only want to help workers get organised.

My track record in building organisations and running them effectively speaks for itself. Ask any worker who was a member of NEHAWU while I ran it. Ask any member of the SACP who was there when I served as an office bearer. Ask anyone who was at Nedlac during my time there, or those who served on committees in Parliament with me or do now, those who work in COPE with me now or in any other organization I have helped to build. They may criticize me for some of my views and disagree with my interpretation of Marxist philosophy, but they can never point to anything but hard work on my part and a genuine belief in building organisations that advance the interests of the working class and the poor. I am not aware of a single organisation Bell has ever built or even contributed to positively.

Since Indibano is a priviate initiative, the trustees could choose who to invite. We posted the launch on Facebook and did a press release. No one was barred from attending. For Bell to suggest that "unions" were deliberately not invited is bizarre. Why did he not say the same about business, the churches, or any other organisation? The reason is because Bell likes to portray himself as a Marxist and trades information with and for particular unionists. Like journalists who work for private companies, Bell's livelihood depends on how much lubricant he can apply to get the desired information or results he needs for his next paycheck.

Incidentally, I was the one who pointed out the irony of the pictures on the wall at the venue to Bell. He did not even have the honesty to credit me for that and instead tried to suggest that the surroundings were appropriate, given his views on the initiative!

For the record, Indibano is an initiative of some progressive and left individuals who want to be a part of and engage with other similarly committed people to contribute to development and change in our country. It is not a COPE initiative and has never been discussed in any COPE structures. If Bell does not support that objective he is free to do as he pleases, but to smear an initiative for dubious political reasons and for his personal advantage is shoddy, partisan rent-seeking behaviour masquerading as journalism.

Freedom of association, something Bell clearly despises, means workers can join any organisation they desire to. The proof of whether this initiative is a good one will be in what Indibano makes of the CWP, not in terms of Bell's arrogant assumption that he is the font of political wisdom and a paragon of political correctness.

Lastly, how can something that I and others are funding be a "soft landing"? In any case, I am not leaving COPE.

Since, unlike Bell, Indibano has no paymasters, it will continue in its independent efforts to contribute to a more positive transformation of our country.

Statement issued by Phillip Dexter, Trustee - Indibano Foundation, February 21 2011

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