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Helen Suzman

Helen Suzman

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Helen Suzman, DBE
Order of the British Empire
The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is an order of chivalry established on 4 June 1917 by George V of the United Kingdom. The Order comprises five classes in civil and military divisions...

 (November 7, 1917 – January 1, 2009) was a South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

n anti-apartheid activist and politician
Politics of South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a unitary, parliamentary republic. The President of South Africa is both head of state and head of government; in the same manner as the prime minister of other nations, the President is elected by the National Assembly and must enjoy the confidence of the Assembly...

.

Biography


Helen Suzman, a life-long citizen of South Africa, was born as Helen Gavronsky in 1917 to Jewish immigrants.
She studied as an economist
Economist
An economist is a professional in the social science discipline of economics. The individual may also study, develop, and apply theories and concepts from economics and write about economic policy...

 and statistician
Statistician
A statistician is someone who works with theoretical or applied statistics. The profession exists in both the private and public sectors. The core of that work is to measure, interpret, and describe the world and human activity patterns within it...

 at Witwatersrand University. At age 19, she married Dr Moses Suzman (died 1994), who was considerably older; they had two daughters. She returned to university as a lecturer in 1944. She gave up teaching for politics, being elected to the House of Assembly
House of Assembly of South Africa
The House of Assembly was the lower house of the Parliament of South Africa from 1910 to 1984, and latterly the white representative house of the Tricameral Parliament from 1984 to 1994, when it was replaced by the current National Assembly...

 in 1953 as a member of the United Party
United Party (South Africa)
The United Party was South Africa's ruling political party between 1934 and 1948. It was formed by a merger of most of Prime Minister Barry Hertzog's National Party with the rival South African Party of Jan Smuts, plus the remnants of the Unionist Party...

.

She switched to the liberal
Liberalism
Liberalism is the belief in the importance of liberty and equal rights. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but generally, liberals support ideas such as constitutionalism, liberal democracy, free and fair elections, human rights,...

 Progressive Party
Progressive Party (South Africa)
The Progressive Party was a liberal party in South Africa that opposed the ruling National Party's policies of apartheid, and championed the Rule of Law. For years its only member of parliament was Helen Suzman...

 in 1959, and represented the Houghton
Houghton Estate, Gauteng
Houghton Estate, often simply called Houghton is a wealthy suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa, north-east of the city centre. Part of it is located in Region 3, the other part in Region 4 ....

 constituency as that party's sole Member
Member of Parliament
A Member of Parliament is a representative of the voters to a :parliament. In many countries with bicameral parliaments, the term applies specifically to members of the lower house, as upper houses often have a different title, such as senate, and thus also have different titles for its members,...

 of Parliament
Parliament of South Africa
The Parliament of South Africa is South Africa's legislature and under the country's current Constitution is composed of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces....

, 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
Eavesdropping
Eavesdropping is the act of secretly listening to the private conversation of others without their consent, as defined by Black's Law Dictionary...

, 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
National Party (South Africa)
The National Party is a former political party in South Africa. Founded in 1914, it was the governing party of the country from 4 June 1948 until 9 May 1994. Members of the National Party were sometimes known as Nationalists or Nats. Its policies included apartheid, the establishment of a...

 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
Afrikaner
Afrikaners are an ethnic group in Southern Africa descended from almost equal numbers of Dutch, French and German settlers whose native tongue is Afrikaans: a Germanic language which derives primarily from 17th century Dutch, and a variety of other languages.-Related ethno-linguistic groups:The...

 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".

Later, as parliamentary white opposition to apartheid grew, the Progressive Party merged with Harry Schwarz
Harry Schwarz
Harry Heinz Schwarz was a South African lawyer, statesman and long-time political opposition leader against apartheid, who eventually served as the South African ambassador to the United States during the country’s transition to representative democracy.Schwarz rose from the childhood poverty he...

's Reform Party and became the Progressive Reform Party
Progressive Reform Party
The Progressive Reform Party was a South African party that was formed on 26 July 1975 by the fusion of the Reform Party led by Harry Schwarz and Progressive Party led by Colin Eglin...

. It was renamed the Progressive Federal Party
Progressive Federal Party
The Progressive Federal Party was a South African political party formed in 1977. It advocated power-sharing in South Africa through a federal constitution, in place of apartheid...

, and Suzman was joined in parliament by notable liberal colleagues such as Colin Eglin
Colin Eglin
Colin Wells Eglin is a South African politician who is best known for having served as national leader of the opposition from 1977–79 and 1986-87...

. She spent a total of 36 years in parliament.

She visited Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, and was the first South African president to be elected in a fully representative democratic election. Before his presidency, Mandela was an anti-apartheid activist, and the leader of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing...

 on numerous occasions while he was in prison, and was present when he signed the new constitution
Constitution of South Africa
The Constitution of South Africa is the supreme law of the country of South Africa. It provides the legal foundation for the existence of the republic, sets out the rights and duties of its citizens, and defines the structure of the government. The current constitution, the country's fifth, was...

 in 1996.

Suzman was awarded 27 honorary doctorates from universities around the world, was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize
Nobel Peace Prize
The Nobel Peace Prize is one of the five Nobel Prizes bequeathed by the Swedish industrialist and inventor Alfred Nobel.-Background:According to Nobel's will, the Peace Prize shall be awarded to the person who...

 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
Order of the British Empire
The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is an order of chivalry established on 4 June 1917 by George V of the United Kingdom. The Order comprises five classes in civil and military divisions...

 in 1989. She was voted #24 in the Top 100 Great South Africans TV series.

Suzman died on New Years Day 2009, aged 91. Achmat Dangor
Achmat Dangor
Achmat Dangor is a South African writer. His most important works include the novels Kafka's Curse and Bitter Fruit , but he is also the author of three collections of poetry, a novella and a short-story collection...

, Nelson Mandela Foundation chief executive, said Suzman was a "great patriot and a fearless fighter against apartheid".

See also

  • List of South Africans
  • List of Jews from Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Progressive Party (South Africa)
    Progressive Party (South Africa)
    The Progressive Party was a liberal party in South Africa that opposed the ruling National Party's policies of apartheid, and championed the Rule of Law. For years its only member of parliament was Helen Suzman...

  • Janet Suzman
    Janet Suzman
    Dame Janet Suzman, DBE is a South African-born-British actress and director.-Early life:Janet Suzman was born in Johannesburg to a Jewish family, the daughter of Betty and Saul Suzman, a wealthy importer of tobacco....

    , her niece and South Africa
    South Africa
    The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

    n actress and director.

External links