I first heard of Helen Suzman 40 years ago, when I first learned of the battle against apartheid in South Africa. As a white South African and a member of parliament, she was in a position to speak out against apartheid, and she did. She was a lone voice for justice in the South African parliament. Her opponents insulted her Jewish religion and called her a communist. Undaunted, she continued to speak, write and act against apartheid. She visited Nelson Mandela in prison. She befriended Mandela’s wife. Throughout the long years of struggle, she stood strong for justice.
After the end of apartheid, she continued to speak out for justice. In a 2008 BBC interview, she said:
“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,” she said.
Suzman died on January 1, 2009, at the age of 91.
She will be missed.