Port Elizabeth - A comment by veteran journalist Allister Sparks on apartheid-era prime minister Hendrik Verwoerd overshadowed outgoing DA leader Helen Zille's "last dance" for the party on Saturday.The first day of the Democratic Alliance's federal congress in Port Elizabeth started off in song and dance as candidates campaigned for the party's frontrunners for leader, Mmusi Maimane and Wilmot James, and those for chairperson, Makashule Gana and Athol Trollip.Trollip, who is the party's Eastern Cape leader, opened the congress and jubilantly welcomed all the delegates."We especially welcome all the SABC viewers,” said Trollip to loud cheers after the party successfully got a court order to broadcast the congress.“I am singling them [the SABC] out from all the other media who came here voluntarily. We had to drag them to the court to get them to cover the congress,” he said.Trollip said the DA was going to govern the Nelson Mandela Bay metro after next year's local government elections.James, who is the outgoing chairperson, echoed these sentiments.Zille eventually took the stage with considerable fanfare."I can promise you that that is the last time you will see me dance," she said as stage fireworks sparked across the stage and delegates were bathed in blue confetti."It is an immense honour to be here and speak to you for the last time as the DA federal leader. The DA hasn't just been a big part of my life... it has often felt like my whole life."She also looked at the party's growth since the country achieved democracy."We grew from 338 000 votes in 1994 to over four million last year. In the process the DA has become the most non-racial party that the country ever had."Believe me, we have only just begun," she said, and then joked that she would sing The Carpenters song with the same name, if she could."This congress heralds a turning point not just for the DA but for South Africa. As we approach the 2016 elections - we are knocking on the door.""This congress marks the start of a new era for South Africa."ControversySeveral tributes were made in her honour, but one by veteran journalist Allister Sparks created an uproar on social media.Sparks said he had known several intelligent politicians "including Hendrik Verwoerd" and many other "dull and stupid" ones."I rate Helen Zille as the smartest political tactician of all," he said.The Verwoerd comment prompted extensive criticism of Sparks on social media sites.Netwerk24 reported that Zille said she was aware of the storm around the comment, but emphasised that Sparks did not express admiration for Verwoerd.Anyone who says Sparks did this was busy "taking a part out of the speech and completely distorting it"."This is totally wrong in the context of the speech.""I feel sorry for Allister that things are happening to him in this manner," she was quoted as saying."If anyone heard what he said and the context in which he said it, they will know how his remarks were fundamentally distorted and manipulated."'Manufactured outrage'Sparks later clarified his comments and blamed political analyst and author Eusebius McKaiser for creating "manufactured outrage"."I was speaking... in that context mainly about effective speakers who were able to carry their parties and do things like that, which I think Verwoerd did with great success... and he was a very effective speaker. I did not admire him - I spent the bulk of my life fighting against him."This is what I call a manufactured outrage that was created by Eusebius McKaiser."He said McKaiser should have checked the facts of what he said with him first before criticising the comments on Twitter."He is supposedly an intellectual and academic," said Sparks."If I say that I thought someone was 'smart', that doesn't mean I agree with them. I think [former US secretary of state] Henry Kissinger was smart, but I don't agree with most of what he did."Debate challengeMcKaiser told News24 that he challenged Sparks to a public debate to discuss the "moral weight of the comments""You do not go to a political party's congress where there is a predominantly black audience and tell them that Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid, was intelligent," he said."We are outraged and we are justified."He said the remarks should have been condemned by senior DA members."This silence is indicative of the party not being able to handle difficult conversations. To defend Allister is exactly the same thing as defending axed Wits SRC president Mcebo Dlamini who made comments about Hitler," he said."The remarks by both are equally morally indefensible."Dlamini has come under heavy criticism following a recent post on Facebook in which he said: "I love Adolf Hitler... There is an element of Hitler in every white person."He subsequently defended his comments, and refused to apologise.He admitted that it would be ignorant of him to ignore the fact that Hitler had committed atrocious crimes against the Jewish people. However, what he admired, he said, was the German's leader ability to organise a nation and get the people to rally behind him.'He wasn't stupid'Sparks was asked later on Saturday about his thoughts on the Nazi leader."I didn't know Hitler, I did know Verwoerd - but Hitler was a monster."I didn't say Verwoerd's policies did not lead to monstrous things, of course they did."He said Verwoerd was an effective and powerful leader of his party."What I am supposed to do? Say that he was dumb? That he was stupid? He wasn't stupid."He said he would also add Mandela and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to his list of "smart politicians", but not President Jacob Zuma."The fact that I think that Jacob Zuma is not very clever doesn't mean I dislike him. I actually quite like him. I find him a very warm and friendly man."