Helen Suzman, South African politician, Died at 91

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Dead, Helen Suzman on the 1st of January 2009 at the age of 91, he was a liberal South African anti-apartheid activist and politician.

Born Helen Gavronsky on November 7, 1917 to Samuel and Frieda Gavronsky, Jewish Lithuanian immigrants, Suzman matriculated in 1933 from Parktown Convent, Johannesburg.

She studied as an economist and statistician at Witwatersrand University.

At age 19, she married Dr Moses Suzman (died 1994), who was considerably older than she was; the couple had two daughters. She returned to university lecturing in 1944, later giving up her teaching vocation to enter politics.

An eloquent public speaker with a sharp and witty manner, 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.

She 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”.

Always outspoken and independent, she spoke out against the regime but at times opposed Mr. Mandela’s policies.

She opposed economic sanctions as counter productive and harmful to poor blacks. After Mandela’s release “she was prominent among those … who persuaded him to drop the ANC’s revolutionary program in favour of an evolutionary one, retaining a market economy and a parliamentary democracy.”

She continued to be a critic after the fall of Apartheid. She was critical of Mandela when he praised Muammar Qaddafi as a supporter of human rights.

According to her biographer, Lord Robin Renwick, before and after the ANC came to power she continued to speak out against those in power who would “put party and state above the individual whether black or white.”

Helen Suzman grew up in a non-observant home although her father contributed to Jewish charities.

Her sense of Jewishness has an ethnic rather than a religious base and, while not an ardent Zionist herself in the sense of wanting to live in Israel, she totally supports the existence of the State of Israel.

She has not been involved in Jewish activities but has contributed to Jewish causes and organizations such as the Union of Jewish Women and the Women’s Benevolent Society since she believes in the Jewish value of the individual assuming responsibility for the Jewish community at large.

Discriminatory racial laws had existed for years in South Africa, but it was the National Party—after taking control of the government in 1949—that began to institute the laws of apartheid.

Suzman, who had joined the opposing United Party, became a Member of Parliament in 1953.

In 1959, she left the United Party to help found the Progressive Party (later renamed the Progressive Federal Party), which supported the elimination of apartheid.

In 1991, Suzman became president of the South African Institute of Race Relations, a position she held until 1993.

The Helen Suzman Foundation was formed in 1993 in order “to promote the values espoused by Helen Suzman throughout her public life and in her devotion to public service.”


 

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