At the DA’s 6th annual congress, journalist Allister Sparks listed Hendrik Verwoerd as one of the smartest politicians he’d met in his career.
Now, a lot of people are implying that Sparks mentioned the Architect of Apartheid with admiration for his morals and not just for his technical ability. Such an accusation could be seen as manufacturing outrage. That’s why I’ve chosen to write out a blog post instead of firing at it in 140 characters.
Sparks listed Verwoerd’s name with an edge in his voice (“And yes, Hendrik Verwoerd”) that anticipated audience members would be upset with this example of tactical genius. That was wise of him. But Nelson Mandela didn’t make his list. Why not? This glaring omission shows that the speech was from a white man, to white men, by a white man, about white men. And Zille made the cut because she is special; good enough to be an honourary member of the Good Old Boy’s Club. There is nothing inherently wrong with white men. But this is South Africa.
Where was John Langalibalele Dube? Perhaps too far back in time for Sparks to have known personally? I have my doubts about that one. How about Stephen Bantu Biko? Perhaps Sparks has never met him in person. Editor Donald Woods met him, though he was banned. Disturbing, this thought: in his long, long, long career, this white journalist never met one black politician he thought was smart. Zille hid struggle activists in her house; Sparks never met those? Black thinkers and activists everywhere, and Sparks deigned to meet not a single one? Sparks claims to have fought apartheid. How, if not alongside smart black politicians? And how did they fail to make his list today?
From what we’ve been told, gifted black thinkers politicked at the same ideological distance from the present DA as the people Sparks did bother to list. In other words, if Sparks was listing clever politicians and not just remaining true to DA history, he could have afforded more variety because the DA would never support apartheid, no? Those white politicians were no more or less part of the DA’s identity and history than the black ones he forgot. Isn’t that the message of #KnowYourDA – that for too long, the DA that has allowed others to tell its story must now push back and reveal its predecessors’ role in fighting apartheid? But alongside whom did the DA fight if not black activists who gave their (wait for it) f*****g lives? Intellect used for evil trumps and eclises the wisdom behind self-sacrifice? The mind boggles. Sparks says the outrage has been manufactured. Of course it has. His words manufactured it.
The only common denominator among all the politicians in Spark’s list is that they are people who, to some degree or another, protected, or failed to interrogate, or benefited from white privilege. And Helen Zille is the top of the class in Sparks’ opinion. This is significant because the list of politicians before Zille’s name shapes a disturbing picture of what Sparks thinks Zille’s political purpose has been all along. If my inference from Sparks’ list is correct, then he sees Zille as the latest manifestation, and indeed, the culmination, of an ideology that to some degree or another protects, or fails to interrogate, or benefits from exclusive white privilege.
At its most innocent, Sparks’ hidden ideology finds its “normal” in a world where good black politicians are not needed for the actualization of justice in a country that is home to many black people. That is fine; in theory, it is possible for a country populated by black people to be run justly by white politicans. Sparks could get that benefit of that doubt. But that is not the kind of historical context Sparks’ list arose out of, and he knows it. Apartheid happened. The absence of black politicians from that list is simply not innocent, and there is no way to defend it.
My clinical brain would say, What’s the problem? Sparks doesn’t speak for the whole of the DA or for Helen Zille. So what’s the big deal?
The big deal is that the DA has so far let him. We await its response.
To one listener, and that is a very naive but not necessarily stupid listener, Sparks’ list might sound like someone admiring Hitler’s oratory skills or a sniper’s deadly aim without a discussion of the ends to which those skills were used. I admire sociopaths’ ability to manipulate because it demonstrates keen psychological awareness. I do not admire what they do with that ability. Anyone is within their rights to stand in front of a crowd and say that sort of thing without apology, and people are within their rights to receive Sparks’ words that way.
But to another listener, in a country where many black people believe the DA exists to protect white privilege and would bring back apartheid, Allister Sparks was actually saying that Helen Zille has been one of the most gifted strategists in the DA’s game of feigning egalitarian ideals so as to return white rule, through baiting the black vote, after that interlude of so-called democracy that left the vote to “them,” those black people who are now ruining the pristine, snow-white South Africa. Otherwise known as “normal” with perhaps the nondescript, invisible, 2-D black servant somewhere in the background. Realer than the black politicians who did not even make Sparks’ list. To such a listener, the outrage is not manufactured; it is justifiable.
And though the idea that the DA would return white rule did not come from the DA, it is an idea the DA needs to take responsibility for as it tries to grow. The party cannot be so tone-deaf as to think it operates in a total vacuum.
To that other listener, the Zille Sparks is describing is Verwoerd in disguise, a sheep in lamb’s clothing. That might sound like a ludicrous idea limited to Sparks alone until you look at who the DA has been looking to fill its leadership position with. Some would argue that it’s been a case of “any black will do” which would explain how they landed with Dr Mamphela I-Changed-My-Mind Ramphele as presidential candidate. And alone, the Ramphele disaster does not mean anything. But she’s one in a (short but telling) series of black people whose procurement happened in a way that indicates the DA isn’t working on principle but towards getting black votes at cost to its principles. Why the rush for black votes? The salvation of democracy? Should democracy not first be saved from prospective party leaders who think the Bill Of Rights can be put to referendum? In a debate against Wilmot James, leadership candidate Mmusi Maimane put Bill Of Rights’ issues on the same ground as e-tolling, saying the status of all should be open to the feelings and decisions of the South African public. I have argued to the effect that if the DA really did put human rights to referendum on the basis of how South Africans feel about them, then some form of apartheid or another could easily return. #Xenophobia.
So what’s the principle that drives DA? Judging by Mmusi’s popularity in the DA, it’s not a commitment to liberal principles, constitutional democracy or nonnegotiable human rights. Judging by its silence thus far about Allister Sparks’ listing Helen Zille in the same breath with Werwoerd, it’s really not about a commitment to constitutional democracy and human rights. It’s about getting South Africa “back to normal” (otherwise known as white rule) and in that scheme, the DA has played very strategically for black votes. Bravo, Helen! You’ve “championed the cause” and for that, God (the white Father atheist killers don’t believe in as per that tweet) will reward you for upholding the values of Volk and Vaderland though you had to disguise them in liberal rhetoric seeing as blacks now have the vote like the liberals want them to.
But that Twitter slip is the reason the DA has recalled you: you almost betrayed the liberal, non-religious mask that had been hiding the Broederbond-style plot all along. Though you were a woman, you were good enough for the Old Boys’ Club and the top of Sparks’ list, but you have almost overstayed your welcome. I type this not truly believing it to be the truth within the DA, but no longer rubbishing those who believe it is. Again, that was Sparks talking and he doesn’t talk for the DA. Except, the DA hasn’t corrected his words. That’s fine; the DA doesn’t have to correct every person’s implicit white supremacy projected onto its leaders. It really would do well to correct them, and it has in the past, but strictly speaking the DA doesn’t have to correct every white person who thinks that the DA’s “normal” is white rule.
But viewed against Maimane’s comments about the Bill Of Rights, and the DA’s silence on what their probable leader is saying about the Bill Of Rights, the DA’s silence on Sparks’ words indicates that the conspiracy for normalcy (again, white rule) isn’t as harebrained as one would imagine. A picture is forming and nobody in the DA can correct it. If the DA is for real, it’s going to dig its heels into its professed principles NOW; it is going to demonstrate them, NOW, and give us some straight talk concerning what it stands for, what it doesn’t, who may speak for it and who may not. It will let heads roll and tempers flare. If it is to save its soul, it will allow some egos to be bruised.
If it doesn’t, however, and it continues working towards getting a bigger black vote at the cost of allowing people to paint it as the party that protects white interests or would jeopardize human rights, then I’m afraid our opposition party is no more principled than our ruling party. The charge that the party exists to protect someone’s priorities at the expense of human rights would not be as insane as I once thought it was.
Perhaps I am growing up, now.
Thank you and please share.