Veteran anti apartheid campaigner Helen Suzman who died on New Year’s Day aged 91 was buried in a private Jewish ceremony today in Johannesburg. The mourners included President Kgalema Motlanther and the last leader of the apartheid regime, F W de Klerk.
Born in 1917 to Jewish immigrants from Lithuania, she married Dr Moses Suzman, who became one of South Africa’s leading physicians. Five years after graduating from Witwatersrand University, she joined the staff as a lecturer in economic development. She was elected a United Party MP for Houghton in 1948 but later left to form the Progressive Party in 1959 and was their only MP to keep her seat in 1961. She was a constant critic of the apartheid regime. The Progressive Party proposed a multi-racial society but did not insist on immediate universal suffrage, instead envisaging the right to vote for those who had had seven years of schooling, or four years of schooling and two years of employment. That was extremely radical for the times.
She was effectively the only opposition in parliament to many of the South African regime’s policies and was loathed by the South African PM, PW Botha who once referred to her as a “vicious little cat”. For her part, she said that if he were a woman, “he would arrive in parliament on a broomstick”.
In later years she was also a critic of post apartheid South Africa saying in July 2008: “I’m extremely disappointed at what’s happening, and I have to put most of the blame on Thabo Mbeki (the former president) for two particularly obnoxious things he’s done – his denialist attitude to Aids, and secondly Zimbabwe and the dreadful backing of Robert Mugabe.
But there are other things too – crime, corruption, the failure to deliver on the promise of a better of life for all, the unemployment and the appalling conditions under which millions are still living.”
This author has not written a biography and will not be writing one.