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Verwoerd comment ‘wasn’t the smartest choice of words’: Sparks

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Veteran journalist Allister Sparks apologised twice on Tuesday – first for causing offence with his mention of Hendrik Verwoerd, and secondly for only citing white leaders in a tribute to “smart politicians”.

Sparks apologised for “giving offence to some people” when he described the architect of apartheid as a smart politician.

His comments about Verwoerd caused a stir at the Democratic Alliance’s elective conference in Port Elizabeth at the weekend, where Sparks paid tribute to outgoing leader Helen Zille.

He also apologised for naming only white politicians in his list of “smart politicians”.

In a column published on News24 on Tuesday, Sparks wrote: “I begin today’s column with an apology.

“In my speech paying tribute to Helen Zille at the Democratic Alliance (DA) congress in Port Elizabeth last weekend, I included the name of Hendrik Verwoerd among a list of ‘smart politicians’ I said I had encountered in the course of my long career in journalism.

“Unfortunately those words have given offence to some people, who saw them as indicating a degree of moral approval of the man and his politics.

“For that I apologise unreservedly to those people.”


Sparks went on to explain his comment, saying even though Verwoerd and his policies appalled him, he still recognised the man as a formidable figure.

“His dominance of his own party was total, to the extent that Nationalist MPs would hiss with outrage if any opposition parliamentarian ventured even a mild interjection. They hung on to his every word as he spelled out the details of his grand scheme of separating the races into ‘separate countries’ with the conviction of a prophet.

“And he was clever, which is what I meant when I called him ‘smart’ – but I guess that wasn’t the smartest choice of word, because some felt it carried a connotation of praise.”

In the same context, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe – whose “destructive policies” Sparks also “abhors” – can also be described as clever.

“Verwoerd was clever in the way he sought to give the crude Nationalist policy of white baasskap [domination] a veneer of respectability by portraying it as a policy of ‘separate freedoms’ for what he called the different ‘peoples’ of South Africa, each in their own areas. ”

‘Serious blabs’

Turning to the list of names of smart politicians Sparks read out in his speech, he said he needed to make a “second apology”.

“In an ad lib part of my five-minute tribute to Helen Zille, I mentioned a few names of other smart politicians I had encountered in my long career to highlight the point I wanted to make that Zille’s real strength had been in her strategic smartness – in her decision as leader of the DA to leave Parliament and fight to win control of the Cape Town metro council.

“I called it a strategic masterstroke. But the list of smart politicians I rattled out to shape that point, happened (oops!) to be all white. ‘Racist!’ screamed the twitterati. I have to plead guilty and apologise, for it is an impossible charge against which to try to defend oneself,” wrote Sparks.

He added that this was a “serious blaps” and that he should have mentioned Nelson Mandela, “and certainly Thabo Mbeki’s masterful ‘I am an African’ speech”, the “exceptional Steve Biko” and also Kader Asmal’s “memorable” maiden speech at the first sitting of the first Parliament of the new South Africa.

Sparks ended his column in a lighter note: “Oops! He forgot about the women members. So there we have it. Sorry folks. Please be kind and put it down to senility.” News24

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