Helen Suzman dies

Most British readers may not remember Helen Suzman, who died on Thursday at the age of 91. Helen had honorary doctorates from Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, and quite a few other universities, for her tireless fight as the only representative of the Progressive Federal Party in the South African parliament for well over a decade.

Janet Suzman, our well known Shakespearian actress, is a niece of this tireless fighter.

On 26th May 1948 when Daniel Malan of the Nationalist Party (as it was subsequently renamed) took over from Jan Smuts of the United Party, it was only by five seats. The two major parties, until the end of Apartheid in 1994, were the Nationalists (Afrikaners) and the United Party (English Speaking South Africans).

In general, the Afrikaners were for Apartheid and the English speakers were against it. But, as the blacks realised, the English speakers were not their friends as the Nationalists increased their votes at each election! They could have only done this with the tacit support of those who professed hatred of Apartheid!

Helen Suzman knew this and also knew it was up to her, and her alone, to fight apartheid at every opportunity.

I did not agree with Helen Suzman’s particular political views (which were a little too left of centre for me) but, like many in South Africa, I admired her pluck and her stand on the issues she so passionately believed in.

Whenever I return to Stellenbosch I am intrigued to find that blacks seem to prefer the Afrikaners to the English South Africans. But when I ask about this, I usually get the amazing answer that “we can trust the Afrikaner more”. I guess it is because of the fact of the Nationalists being supported by the English during the Apartheid era?

Those readers who like heroes should read up about Helen Suzman who was a true heroine of our time.


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