Allister Sparks wrote in his 2016 memoir that, “South Africa is still a much better place than it was under apartheid.” Sparks, one of South Africa’s most distinguished journalists, died on September 19 at the age of 83 after a 66-year career covering the difficult and violent nearly half century of dejure apartheid under Afrikaner rule. He clashed openly with the apartheid regime, narrating the imposition of forceful racial segregation including massive displacements and prohibitions of mixed marriages and the regime’s repeated use of the army and police to clamp down on the black opposition.
Sparks courageously disclosed the cover-up of the regime’s many secret actions, including the arrest and violent repression of leading black opponents, most notably Steve Biko’s violent death in police captivity in 1977. As editor of The Rand Daily Mail, he exposed secret government efforts to use a slush fund to establish a government-friendly newspaper The Citizen (thousands of copies were thrown away daily to hide the paper’s limited circulation) leading to the resignation of President John Vorster in 1979.
Over decades of reporting, at times to the displeasure of the paper’s owners, Sparks championed the promotion of non-racial democracy and covered the complex events leading to the election of Nelson Mandela as the country’s first democratically elected president in 1994. He continued to cover the difficulties and challenges which the ruling African National Congress (ANC) has encountered as the country transitioned from the apartheid regime to a young multi-party democracy. Read more