Sparks served at the helm of the now-defunct Daily Mail between 1977 and 1981. During that time, the newspaper broke the political scandal known as Muldergate in which officials from the Department of Information secretly planned to use state resources for a propaganda campaign for the apartheid government. The scandal led to the resignation of Prime Minister John Vorster in 1978, and Sparks was named International Editor of the Year in 1979 for his leadership of the paper’s coverage.
After starting his career in journalism as a reporter at the Queenstown Daily Representative at the age of 17, Sparks went on to work at the East London Daily Dispatch and, later, for Reuters in the United Kingdom.
In 1992, Sparks co-founded the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism with Wits University, and served as its executive director until 1997. In 1998, he became editor-in-chief of SABC television news. Over the years, he worked as a correspondent for a number of international publications, including The Washington Post, The Observer, and The Economist. He also authored a number of books on South African history and, in March 2016, published “The Sword and the Pen,” chronicling his 60-plus years in journalism.
Sparks was the recipient of the 1985 Louis M. Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity in Journalism for his reporting from South Africa for The Observer and The Washington Post. He was honored with the Allan Kirkland Soga Lifetime Achiever Award in 2011.