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Aug. 15, 2001 -- No. 371

Renowned South African journalist to teach at School of Journalism and Mass Communication

CHAPEL HILL -- Acclaimed South African journalist Allister Sparks will be a visiting professor in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication in 2001-02.

This fall, he will teach "Racial Conflict and Journalism in South Africa" from 6-8:50 p.m. Mondays in Carroll Hall 338. Students interested in the class should call Sharon Jones, the school’s student records manager, at (919) 962-2479.

His visit to UNC is co-sponsored by the University Center for International Studies. He will also have an association with Duke University this academic year.

"Sparks covered the major events in South Africa’s history over the last half of the 20th century," said Dean Richard Cole. "We’re mighty fortunate to have him here to share that wealth of experience with students."

Sparks said: "I plan to bring some sense of the problems, challenges and excitement of reporting one of the modern world’s most remarkable political, social and economic transformations to the budding journalists at UNC."

Sparks, a fifth-generation South African, has lectured on South African political and media affairs in South Africa, the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, Zimbabwe, Namibia and continental Europe. He is the author of two books, "The Mind of South Africa" and "Tomorrow is Another Country." The former book won South Africa’s Sanlam Literary Award in 1990 and has been widely acclaimed for its insights into South African politics. More than a dozen American universities including Harvard use the book in political science and African studies departments.

His second book was runner-up to Nelson Mandela’s "Long Walk to Freedom in South Africa’s two other major literary prizes, the Alan Paton Award and the CNA Literary Award. "Tomorrow is Another Country" also formed the basis of a television series for BBC-2 and the Discovery Channel.

Sparks is working on a third book, "Beyond the Miracle – The Making of the New South Africa," that will complete a trilogy on South Africa, covering the rise and fall of apartheid and the transition to a non-racial democracy.

Sparks began his reporting career on the Queenstown Daily Representative in 1951. He covered the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and traveled in Europe through 1954. He spent 1955 in what was then the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland as a reporter for the Bulawayo Chronicle. The next year he returned to South Africa and spent two years as a copy editor on the East London Daily Dispatch.

In 1957 he was based in England working for Reuters, the international news agency. The following year, he returned to South Africa to join the Rand Daily Mail, where a crusading editor, Laurence Gandar, had just taken over. Sparks became political correspondent of the Rand Daily Mail in 1960. He reported on the legislative structuring of the apartheid system, which took place in that decade.

He wrote a column that appeared in the Rand Daily Mail and various other newspapers for 33 years. He became assistant editor in 1967, chief assistant editor in 1969 and deputy editor in 1972. After a stint editing the Sunday Express, a sister paper, he returned as the Rand Daily Mail’s editor.

Under Sparks, the Rand Daily Mail exposed a major scandal in the government information services – the "Muldergate Scandal" of 1979 – which led to the fall of President John Vorster and his heir apparent, Information Minister Connie Mulder. As a result of that work, Sparks was named joint International Editor of the Year by the New York media magazine, World Press Review.

Sparks was dismissed as editor in 1981 after the newspaper company’s board of directors decided to make the paper appeal more to the country’s affluent white community and less to poorer blacks. Subsequently, the venture failed, and the paper was closed in 1985.

Sparks became South Africa correspondent for The Washington Post, The Observer in Britain, and Holland’s leading daily, the NRC Handelsblad. He also worked for 23 years as a correspondent for The Economist.

Besides his writing and editing, Sparks wrote the script for a full-length documentary film on the racial conflict in South Africa: "Land Apart." Advance showings of the film received favorable reviews, but before the film reached the public, it was banned by the Censorship Board on political grounds.

His reporting on apartheid and racial unrest won him numerous honors: a special international award for outstanding reporting presented by Inter-Press Service, the Third World news agency, and the Louis M. Lyons Award for conscience and integrity in journalism, awarded by the Nieman Fellows at Harvard. In 1985 the Washington Post nominated him for a Pulitzer Prize.

Among other awards were the "Valiant for Truth Award" by the British Order of Christian Unity in 1982 and the 1992 David Blundy Award for foreign reporting, part of the prestigious British Press Awards.

In 1992 Sparks raised the funds to start the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism in South Africa with the University of the Witwatersrand. The institute, unique in Africa, is a training center for practicing journalists and dedicated to raising the standards of the profession. At the request of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Sparks is now part of a group of experts charged with drafting a communications strategy for the world organization.

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Contact: Dean Richard Cole at (919) 962-1204