Helen Suzman PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 20 February 2009 15:01

 Born: 7 November 1917(1917-11-07) Germiston, Gauteng, South Africa

Died: 1 January 2009 Johannesburg, South Africa

Age: 91

Cause of death: Age

Notable because: Member of South African Parliament from 1953 to 1989, for much of which time she was the sole voice of opposition to the Aprtheid regime.

Helen Suzman was born on 7 November 1917 to Lithuanian-Jewish immigrants. She studied as an economist and statistician at Witwatersrand University. At age 19, she married Dr. Moses Suzman (d. 1994), who was considerably older than his wife. She had two daughters with him before returning to university as a lecturer in 1944. She gave up teaching for politics, being elected to Parliament in 1953 as a member of the United Party. She switched to the liberal Progressive Party in 1959, and represented the Houghton conshttp://www.whoswhosa.co.za/Images/Photos/Suzman_Helen_3458.jpgtituency as that party's sole member of parliament, and the sole parliamentarian unequivocally opposed to apartheid, from 1961 to 1974.

She was often harassed by the police and her phone was tapped by them. She had a special technique for dealing with eavesdropping, which was to blow a whistle into the mouthpiece of the phone.

Suzman was noted for her strong public criticism of the governing National Party's policies of apartheid at a time when this was atypical of white South Africans, and found herself even more of an outsider because she was an English-speaking Jewish woman in a parliament dominated by Calvinist Afrikaner men. She was once accused by a minister of asking questions in parliament that embarrassed South Africa, to which she replied: "It is not my questions that embarrass South Africa; it is your answers".

http://www.aliciapatterson.org/APF001973/Rensberger/Rensberger11/Rensberger01.jpgLater, as parliamentary white opposition to apartheid grew, the Progressive Party merged with Harry Schwarz's Reform Party and became the Progressive Reform Party. It was renamed the Progressive Federal Party, and Suzman was joined in parliament by notable liberal colleagues such as Colin Eglin. She spent a total of 36 years in parliament.

She visited Nelson Mandela on numerous occasions while he was in prison, and was present when he signed the new constitution in 1996.

She was voted #24 in the Top 100 Great South Africans.

Suzman was awarded 27 honorary doctorates from universities around the world, was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and received countless other awards from religious and human rights organizations around the world. Queen Elizabeth II made her an honorary Dame Commander (Civil Division) of the Order of the British Empire in 1989 (she could not take the title Dame as the title is not conferred unless the recipient is a citizen of a Commonwealth realm).

Suzman died on 1 January 2009. Achmat Dangor, Nelson Mandela Foundation chief executive, said Suzman was a "great patriot and a fearless fighter against apartheid."


Last Updated on Tuesday, 20 July 2010 09:05

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