Sparks of Verwoerd

2015-05-10 07:00

It’s not complicated. One doesn’t stand up in South Africa (or anywhere) and laud Verwoerd. It doesn’t get much more simple than that, even if you are a “Veteran” journalist. It’s offensive and it’s rude and it hurts people. And if for some bizarre reason one does, then the reaction following the insult is even more important. Say sorry, admit that it was unacceptable, and move on.

There was a sharp intake of breath from the South African press and social media collectively as Sparks, in his tribute to outgoing DA leader Helen Zille, noted that he had known many intelligent politicians including Hendrik Verwoerd. The very same Hendrik Verwoerd who is known to every South African as a symbol of the heinous apartheid system, that oppressed and disenfranchised and murdered on racial grounds. The same system that South Africa still reels from 20 years since its termination. Was there seriously no one else that he could think to mention at a DA conference?

What did he think the reaction would be? How could this possibly assist the very person that he was meant to be honouring? And what makes it worse is that Helen Zille is now scrambling to find ways to defend this outrageous comment. This was an “own goal” of massive proportions.

The preface to Sparks in every report is “Veteran journalist” as though that affords him additional leeway. As though that means we need to take him more seriously than we would a “Young” one. Well sadly for Sparks, some of this is true. He should have known better. He should now own up to his error and he should say sorry as loudly as he knows how.

We expect this of our youth, given the Wits SRC story where one Dlamini praised Hitler, much to the offense of just about everyone. Logic dictates that if we expect this from a student leader, then we should expect the same from a “Veteran” journalist who understands the power of the word. And we do, and so we should.

Sparks is well known to Israel supporters and to Jews as not being a friend of either. He has defended the indefensible, he has equated Israel to Iran, has publicized anti Israel literature and done his best to reinforce the fallacious Zionism and Apartheid link. And because he is a “Veteran” and because he has been plying his trade for close on 64 years he continued almost unchecked. This time however, it is not only Jews he has chosen to offend, but also every South African who has any basic understanding of racism. One just doesn’t do that. It’s vulgar and it’s bad mannered.

The sad thing about this latest faux pas is that the DA has struggled with the outrageous notion that should they lead South Africa, that they would bring back apartheid. As absurd as this notion is, the Party is constantly at odds with this underlying fear, and has battled to shed itself of the image of a “White person’s political party”. And with his latest remark one can only imagine how many steps back the DA has taken in this arena.

And although I do feel sorry for the DA leadership, they are not without fault. Not only did they invite Sparks to speak, but they are defending him. Big mistake. It is not defensible. The DA needs to concede that he was out of line, that his comment was a unacceptable. And then ask him to sit right down before he hurts himself.

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