Long time journalist and public commentator Allister Sparks (82) found himself at the centre of a social media storm when he declared Apartheid architect Hendrick Verwoerd was a ‘smart politician’. Wits Vuvuzela spoke to Sparks at the Menell Media Exchange conference in Sandton about the state of journalism in South Africa and the shifts in the political landscape.
VETERAN JOURNALIST: Allister Sparks remains vocal about dying newspapers, the ‘gimmicks’ of the EFF, and the ‘unbalanced’ Baleka Mbete. Photo: Dinesh Balliah
What stood out for you at this year’s conference and is there anything you expect to hear?
I was particularly taken by yesterday’s session by Catherine Kennedy (of the South African History Archive). I didn’t go to the branding, maybe I missed something there, I guess I feel it’s a bit too late for me to brand myself at my age (laughs). For me Catherine was the highlight. Particularly John Perlman and Songezo Zibi, I thought there were wise thoughts that came out of them.
On parliament in South Africa today …
Parliament has been a very refined and remote place, now it’s in the public eye and I think that’s good. [However] it will have to take a grip on itself, and it needs a better speaker than we have at the moment, because it can easily become a laughing stock, it can really damage its reputation.
On the EFF and their disruption in Parliament, and Baleka Mbete …
I do think the EFF (Economic Freedom Fighters), has brought something, but it’s got to be very carefully monitored by a much better speaker than we’ve got. I think Max Sisulu would have managed it, Max was a very good speaker and Frene Ginwala likewise, not a partisan speaker who’s the chairman of a party, and her lack of balance shows so glaringly, nobody takes her seriously.
I think the red garments [of the EFF] was a gimmick, I guess once you’ve got them it’s very hard to get rid of them, I don’t think it has any impact anymore, it had an impact in the beginning. The gimmicks need to be limited, but they can only be limited by the speaker, and that’s got to be by persuasion, not by bringing in the police. She (Mbete) needs to call in the whips and say ‘How do we deal with this?’
I think a lot of it [parliament] is archaic language and it’s a bit absurd; it’s meant to preserve a tradition, but at the same time its got to give way to the modern world and the modern South Africa where not everybody shares the British tradition. There has to be some kind of control in the transformation of parliament and only a really wise, strong, and influential speaker can do that.
On Business Day editor Songezo Zibi …
I think he’s a very thoughtful young man and I think he has some very important insights … he’s a real asset to the media. He’s a young man and he’s a very important addition to our galaxies of editors, he’s thoughtful and cares about the media. John Perlman has been around for a long time, but this is a newcomer really [Zibi] out of a different profession, and he has a great career ahead of him.
On newspapers in the new digital age …
I think two kinds of newspapers papers are going to survive in the new digital age: One is the local paper, the small town paper and the other is the serious paper. I think the popular press is going to die, and we have an awful lot of popular press here and its days are numbered.
There’s got to be one black newspaper that’s going to emerge as a serious one, [maybe] it is the Sowetan, City Press is getting there but it’s only a Sunday paper.
Third year law student, Zareef Minty, is the national youth president for businessmen Kenny Kunene and Gayton McKenzie’s new political party, the Patriotic Alliance (PA).
The slight looking 20-year-old Minty, who is also a fashion designer said the PA was youth-centred and had a strong focus on giving second chances to the reformed, like two of its own founders.
Second chances and new alliances
“If Nelson Mandela could have that chance to be reformed (sic) coming out of jail and having an opportunity, then we should allow Kunene and Gayton to have the same thing.
“In the same way a student has been charged with something should be allowed to have a future as well,” said Minty.
“Ex-cons” Gayton McKenzie, president of the PA and general secretary Kenny Kunene, met each other in jail and following their release in 2003, became business partners.
JUGGLING: National youth president for the Patriotic Alliance, Zareef Minty, explains how he manages between being a law student, political figure, fashion designer and author. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa
Minty met the two through his clothing line partnership, after Kunene was asked to be an ambassador for Minty’s own fashion label, Self Made Billionaire (SMB). “Kunene liked the idea of an up and coming clothing brand worn by celebrities,” said Minty.
He said the party also included more young people in its decision-making. He said four of the party’s 12-member national executive committee were under the age of 25.
“We are the only party out there who allows youth to have a platform in the NEC. The ANC and the Democratic Alliance has a separate Youth League so you don’t get young people in parliament,” he said.
Minty is sixth on the PA’s parlimentary list, which means if they manage to get six seats after the national elections this year, he could be sitting in parliament and not in stuffy lecture rooms.
The party’s focus on the youth and a “practical approach” to politics are what Minty believes will make the PA “a better alternative to the ANC”, which he said was policy heavy with little to no implementation thereof.
[pullquote]”…if they manage to get six seats after the national elections this year, he could be sitting in parliament and not in stuffy lecture rooms.”[/pullquote]
He believes that PA would be able to relate mostly to the born-frees because it was a party that did not have any “baggage”.
The PA’s campaign trail on campus has come with its own set of issues, “Until we have permission to be a club or society on campus we can’t really go out in a group and recruit people. We have been working by going person to person, trying to get them to join,” he said.
The PA, often referred to as the “coloured” or “gangster party”, was founded in Paarl in the Western Cape three months ago and plans to contest in the upcoming elections.
Minty said they have a good chance of having up to six seats in parliament after this year’s elections.
Minty is treasurer of the Wits Law Students’ Counsel and the chairperson of the Student Discipline Committee, which influenced his alignment with the PA and their belief in reforming and empowering the previously charged.
Before the PA, he was part of the ANC Youth League on campus where he took up position as treasurer but the PA presented him with an opportunity for national leadership
Along with the multitude of things Minty has on his plate this year, he plans to publish a motivational book, Empire by March. Let’s watch this space.