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RIP Allister Sparks (1933-2016)

Anyone who tries to understand what is happening in South Africa today without first digesting Allister Sparks’s lucid, sensitive and comprehensive exploration of the country’s multifaceted mind, does so at his own peril.

- André Brink, on The Mind of South Africa

Allister Sparks, Mpho and Desmond Tutu and Bono
Allister Sparks, Mpho and Desmond Tutu and Bono
at the launch of Tutu: The Authorised Portrait

 

The Sword and the PenBeyond the MiracleTomorrow is Another CountryThe Mind Of South AfricaTutuFirst Drafts

 

Allister Sparks, veteran journalist, newspaper editor, author and political analyst, has died at the age of 83.

According to a media release, Sparks passed away at the Morningside Clinic yesterday after a heart attack, after spending 12 days in hospital.

Sparks has been the recipient of numerous awards and is the author of several bestselling books about South Africa, including Beyond the Miracle and Tomorrow is another Country. His writing covers South Africa from the birth of apartheid, the rise of political opposition, the dawn of democracy, right through to today.

Nelson Mandela called him: “One of South Africa’s eminent journalists, whose outspoken views have served the cause of democracy in this country magnificently.”

Sparks was born in Cathcart in the Eastern Cape in 1933, and began his career as a journalist in 1951, at the age of 18, with an interview with then-Minister of Native Affairs Hendrik Verwoerd.

As Ray Hartley writes, Sparks quickly rose through the ranks, and won a Nieman Fellowship to study at Harvard in the United States in 1962:

When he returned to the country, it was under the iron-fisted rule of BJ Vorster and his security henchman, ‘Lang’ Hendrik van den Bergh.

When two senior ANC officials, Arthur Goldreich and Harold Wolpe, escaped from security police cells and fled to neighbouring Botswana, Sparks tracked them down to their redoubt.

“My name is Allister Sparks. I’m from the Rand Daily Mail, and I want to talk to Arthur and Harold,” he said, after knocking on the door.
After interviewing them for hours, he wrote a series of scoops, leading to the publication of special editions of the Rand Daily Mail.
The story was dramatic. A plane scheduled to ferry the ANC leaders away was burned down on the runway and an escape plan had to be hatched.

Allister SparksSparks really made his name, however, as the editor of the Rand Daily Mail. Under his leadership, the newspaper revealed the real cause of Steve Biko’s death – a story reported by Helen Zille – as well as the details of the Information Scandal in the mid-1970s.

With Sparks at the helm the Rand Daily Mail’s black readership grew substantially, and he was eventually let go because advertisers wanted to target a white audience. After that he worked for The Observer, The Washington Post and other major international publications as a South African correspondent.

His most recent book, The Sword and the Pen: Six Decades on the Political Frontier, was published just a few months ago.

A memorial service is being planned for Friday, 14 October at 11 AM at the Braamfontein Crematorium.

Books LIVE offers condolences to Sparks’s family and friends.

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