This week, South Africa mourned the passing of acclaimed writer, journalist and political commentator, Allister Haddon Sparks. Sparks sadly passed away on September 19, 2016, following a heart attack, at the age of 83. In his career as the editor of the Rand Daily Mail, Sparks made a name for himself when the paper broke the Muldergate story in the 1970’s, which detailed how the Apartheid government secretly funded information projects. He subsequently used his role as a leading figure within South African media to oppose the Apartheid regime through his many works, and documented his experience under Apartheid in The Mind of South Africa (1991) and Tomorrow is Another Country (1996). Sparks was also an earnest opponent of the Zionist Israeli regime and used his work, as a political commentator, to rattle the Zionist lobby, both within South Africa and abroad.
To gain insight into the life of Sparks, VOC spoke to Media Review Network researcher and mentee of Sparks, Suraya Dadoo.
Dadoo explains that given a career that spans approximately 60 years, Sparks has certainly cemented for himself an enviable legacy and positioned himself as a respected commentator within the field of journalism.
She says that through his work he successfully and unapologetically confronted both the Apartheid regime of South Africa and the Zionist regime of Israel, and “spoke truth to power.”
As an individual whose relationship with Sparks goes as far back as 2002, Dadoo notes that her personal memories of Sparks includes his many anecdotes of his adventurous life and the valuable mentoring that he had provided her with.
She says that while writing her book Why Israel? She regularly consulted with Sparks who used his knowledge of meetings he had participated in with the Palestinian political leaders and provided her with first-hand information of the political framework of the conflict.
“The reason I had to consult with him is because Alistair Sparks, at the time, was probably the only South African journalist who had met with leaders of the Palestinian resistance movement and wrote about who he had met and what had been said in the interviews,” she stated.
Dadoo further notes that the acclaimed journalist was able to use his knowledge and experience of the Apartheid system within South Africa and apply it to the sociopolitical context within the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
She asserts that he was able to ask the correct questions and stir conventions when dealing with the more notably stubborn characters, such as Israeli authorities.
As an example of the writer’s prowess with words, Dadoo explains that after being denied access to Israel, following his meeting with the leaders of Hamas in 2002, he confronted the Israeli regime in the best way he knew how – through the written word.
She says that he wrote a series of articles in which he argued that Israel had assassinated a number of Palestinian leaders, such as Salah Shehade and Shaykh Ahmed Yassin.
In his argument, Sparks asserted that rather than assassinating leaders of the Palestinian opposition, Israel should have instead decided to meet with them and discuss a viable solution.
“When he wrote the three columns, by the end of the third column, he was censored and the newspaper in which it was published, people had complained and there were threats of advertising revenue being withheld.”
In addition, Dadoo states that Sparks often spoke in opposition of members of the South African Zionist lobby.
She says that he described the Zionist lobby as “hypocritical” for their support of the African National Congress (ANC), while they had previously supported the Apartheid Regime’s claim that the organization was a terrorist body.
“He regularly pointed out how hypocritical it was for many people who were now saying that the ANC is such a noble movement, which cannot be compared to a Palestinian resistance movement, but they previously supported the Apartheid regime,” she added.
Describing Sparks as a “trail blazer”, she says that at the time, it was unheard of for a mainstream South African journalist to be confident and brazen enough to be as outspoken as he had been throughout his career.
Sparks collated all his columns into a book titled ‘First Draft of History’, which was published by Jonathan ball.