Wits Student Represantative Council President Mcebo addresses the student beforehe institution's Vice Chancellor Adam Habib (left) had delivered the statement from the partaining to student funding and financial aid at the Press briefing in Braamfontein near Johannesburg. 210115 Picture: Boxer Ngwenya

Allister Sparks and Mcebo Dlamini are twins united in identical moral waywardness, writes Eusebius McKaiser.

What do former newspaper editor Allister Sparks and axed Wits student representative council (SRC) president Mcebo Dlamini have in common? They are both shockingly irresponsible in choosing thoroughly evil people as examples of intelligent and effective politicians.

Sparks’s defence of his remarks worsens each time another journalist asks him to explain: he told the Sunday Times that Hendrik Verwoerd’s intelligence included effective moral reasoning. His defenders will now have an even harder time convincing the rest of us that Sparks surely intended to exclude Verwoerd’s moral compass from his speech’s reach on Saturday.

Sparks disagrees with his defenders: he thinks Verwoerd succeeded in giving a “veneer of moral respectability” to apartheid’s slogan, “The K***** in his place”. Which quote does Sparks attribute to Verwoerd that constitutes even a mere “veneer of moral respectability”? I’d love to know.

Why, by the way, is someone “smart” when they conceive of an evil plan that dehumanises, a plan that turns out to be both grossly inefficient and unsustainable?

Dlamini, by the way, deserved being axed as SRC leader even if the official reason is unconnected to his admiration of Adolf Hitler. The fact that our universities are still harsh spaces for countless black students to negotiate does not mean we must show sympathy for a student leader who deliberately chooses one of the worst characters in history, with blameworthy disregard for that evil character’s victims, just to illustrate “efficiency”.

We knew Hitler was efficient, duh. Why not choose an example that is not morally stained, deeply divisive, and still allow your audience to see that efficient leadership in our state is regrettably missing?

If racism pisses you off, then so too must anti-Semitism, including its non-violent manifestations such as the kind of indifference shown by Dlamini for the painful memory of Jewish people, black people, gay people, and others exterminated by Hitler. We need to react similarly in our response to Sparks. Verwoerd was the architect of a crime against humanity and the victims of Verwoerd’s brutal anti-black racism were listening to Sparks admiring smart politicians, including his citation of Verwoerd.

The most flawed defence, in the context of the speech, as journalist Vukani Mde pointed out, is to pretend that “smart” was not meant to indicate admiration. That cannot be true because the speech was a tribute to the brilliance of Helen Zille. That is why she made the list. This logically implies that it was an honours roll. The speaker intended anyone who made the list to be intellectually praiseworthy.

This is the only way to explain why the list culminated in the mention of Zille, who was being celebrated. It is unconvincing to think the speaker didn’t intend the list of brains to be admired. If you disagree, then you are implying that Sparks didn’t mean to admire Zille’s intellect. That was his obvious aim: to tell her she belongs on an admirably smart list of politicians.

Why would someone not think harder about speech remarks in a country where racism still runs deep? One possibility is that you are indifferent to the painful memory that Verwoerd evokes in black people.

The second possibility is that you genuinely think it is fine to choose Verwoerd as an illustrative example because, well, we must all just neatly separate someone’s IQ from the evil deeds they committed.

This academic distinction between intellectual prowess and moral virtue doesn’t help Sparks. Sparks tells us himself that Verwoerd wasn’t just book-smart, but also capable of effective moral reasoning.

So Sparks himself rules out any generous defence of his speech that could be rooted in separating intellectual acumen from moral character.

At any rate, if you have adequate regard for the impact of the evil actions of Verwoerd, you would weigh up using the Verwoerd example (to make a point that doesn’t depend on the example being used at all), against the impact the example will have on people hearing your words around the country.

You don’t tell Jewish people that Hitler was efficient. And you don’t tell black South Africans that Verwoerd was smart. If you want to give an exposition of efficiency, talk about what Henry Ford did to make manufacturing more efficient.

If you want to brag about meeting smart politicians, tell us you met Helen Suzman, Nelson Mandela, Steve Biko, Frederick van Zyl Slabbert and so on.

Given then that the Verwoerd example was unnecessary, its use was therefore callous. The callousness was compounded by the absence of black politicians on his list. In six decades of journalism, has this self-styled fighter of Verwoerd’s regime never met a smart black politician?

Little wonder Biko skewered white liberals. Mr Sparks and Mr Dlamini are ultimately twins united in identical moral waywardness. Many black DA delegates even applauded Sparks’s speech in a tragicomic performance of Verwoerd’s vision. Verwoerd’s ghost must still be smiling.

* Eusebius McKaiser is the best-selling author of A Bantu In My Bathroom and Could I Vote DA? A Voter’s Dilemma.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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