Opinionista Onkgopotse JJ Tabane 12 May 2015

Dear Allister Sparks, let’s talk frankly…

Verwoerd, smart? It’s hard to understand why one would pay to such a terrible leader when we have a wealth of inspirational and highly intelligent black political pioneers to choose from. Maybe it’s time Allister Sparks re-thought his relevance.

Mr Sparks, you have truly put your foot in it this time. I do sympathise – every independent mind, from time to time, can make this mistake in the quest to be interesting. Your day came, but sadly it’s not the first time.

I am an avid reader of your ‘At Home and Abroad’ columns, and some are truly more abroad than at home. As Minister Angie Motshekga said recently, “Sometimes we all say dumb things”. Your Verwoerd faux pas is but one of them. Look, I am not ageist, and I will never attribute this to some kind of professional or political dementia. But this is the kind of statement that calls for retirement.

At least this thing was said in full public view, in broadcast, so nobody can blame it on a ghost writer or editor. Thank goodness – because the DA spin machinery would have found a way to get you out of this fire. You know that in the company of the DA, you have people who will have your back, no matter how inappropriate you are.

Had you done this at a Cosatu congress, you would have been booed and shouted off stage. But the DA faithful, possibly in polite confusion, laughed and clapped because in the names you rattled off, their Helen was there. They did not know how to clap for Helen and un-clap for Verwoerd. I think you spoiled the ‘historic’ nature of the occasion and tinkled on Mmusi’s party.

I may not know the full reasoning, but Zizi Kodwa called this racist. I can’t disagree with him, given the ‘clever’ things that in your view, Verwoerd said or did as a ‘smart politician’ – mainly, of course, against black folk.

You are a man of knowledge, a bright spark indeed. Many people believe you when you speak. So you can imagine the confusion – some may think there are dramatic or profound things Verwoerd may have done that escaped us all, qualifying him as clever. Many of our own parents who were made to wear short pants in winter in prisons designed by Verwoerd must be wondering what was smart about that. It’s a no-brainer. Come on, now – give everyone long pants, especially when it’s cold.

You’ll understand that I am trying to steer away, here, from the obvious utterances, such as a conclusion that blacks couldn’t and shouldn’t do mathematics – which of course excluded them from studying engineering and medicine. Since we have now established that blacks have ignored that and that there are plenty of black doctors and engineers, I am again not sure how Verwoerd was a smart man. He was a politician who drew up borders in such a way that ten homelands were born with ‘pseudo presidents’ of tribes in South Africa. I’m sure he said to himself: “What is the smart thing to do to develop our people? Ah, separate development! Let blacks develop alone and we can develop alone without hindrance! This is a smart and good strategy – bugger the international community and the fact that these people outnumber us a hundredfold and could easily stir up an insurrection.” Smart, right?

But let’s talk frankly… Maybe you were onto something, comparing Helen Zille with Verwoerd as a strategist. I am sure you can find very few politicians in opposition who can accept money from funders they don’t like because they fund the ruling party. So to actually have their bot curry, eat their New Age breakfast and then take a cheque from them, while later denying all of the above, must make Zille every bit as smart as Verwoerd. Her recent tweets about refugees could also have brought her neck and neck in the separate development stakes. In other words, Eastern Cape citizens must not bother to try for development in the Western Cape, as they are… refugees.

Look, I am trying hard here to understand your logic; after all, your only job at the DA congress, we are told, was to pay tribute to Zille. It is curious, bright Allister Sparks, that Nelson Mandela – a global icon, Steve Biko – a philosopher per excellence, Robert Sobukwe – founder of pan Africanism, Chris Hani – first MK Commander, Oliver Tambo – Internationalist, Joe Slovo… guys who outmanoeuvred a whole regime and who are celebrated the world over, didn’t crack your ‘smart’ list.

Yet there is a silver lining. At least you excluded the Afrikaans horse rider whose name escapes me now. Also, you curiously excluded Janusz Walus, who tried to plunge our country into an abyss by killing Chris Hani. I am also pleased you excluded Tony Leon – he of the ‘fight black’ brigade – as well as Andries Treurnicht (many youngsters would not have known who you were talking about). But how dare you exclude uMsholozi? A guy who was practically fired as deputy president and is now twice head of state – surely that’s smarter than Verwoerd?

Still, we are invited to make only a molehill of this. It was only a small omission of black politicians. Or am I being racist? The DA spin machinery was on full throttle, explaining that this was not really what you meant. You did not have a list of clever blacks with you and you did not mean to compare Verwoerd on a moral basis with Zille. You were only referring to the smart thing that Verwoerd was defined by – the little thing that made us the skunk of the world, Apartheid.

So bright was your Verwoerd that he kept Mandela in jail for decades and did not get him killed. The guy made it all the way to the Union Buildings! Perhaps if Verwoerd were smarter, he’d have listened to Shaka Zulu: never leave your enemy behind, lest they rise up and pounce on you.

But no, no. You were only referring to the small matter of Apartheid when you declared Verwoerd a smart politician.

You probably also have no idea what the fuss is about when people are outraged at the Wits SRC President stating that he admires Hitler for his “organisational skills”. Your statement is a version of the same. Verwoerd tried to take a country where 75% of the population was already squeezed into 13% of the land, and then still divided that land into 10 more homelands. Only a very “organised” person could think that up. I’m sure in your books that is smart. As smart as Hitler thinking up the most efficient way to kill so many Jews in one go.

Mr Sparks, the sooner you apologise, the better. You have done the already desperate DA a disservice. Mmusi Maimane was already swimming in hot water, and you have just made his job a whole lot harder. That’s racist. You never did such a stupid thing when Zille was in charge. Now affable Maimane has to pretend he is not pissed off with you, and be Christian and polite in the face of a genuine balls-up on the platform where more black votes have to be won. As it is, some people are worried that the DA will bring back Apartheid – I know, I know, it’s crazy – but do you really think you helped?

Why on earth did you think throwing in Verwoerd would be an appropriate tribute to Zille? I just don’t get it.

But then, I am not as smart as Verwoerd.

Yours frankly,

Onkgopotse JJ Tabane DM


"Take a chance, won't you? Knock down the fences which divide. Tear apart the walls that imprison you. Reach out. Freedom lies just on the other side." ~ Thurgood Marshall