Helen Suzman: Wikis


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Helen Suzman

In office
1953 – 1989

Born 7 November 1917(1917-11-07)
Germiston, Gauteng,
South Africa
Died 1 January 2009 (aged 91)
South Africa
Political party United Party
Progressive Party
Progressive Reform Party
Progressive Federal Party
Apartheid in South Africa
Events and Projects

Sharpeville Massacre
Soweto uprising · Treason Trial
Rivonia Trial · Mahlabatini Declaration
Church Street bombing · CODESA
St James Church massacre
Cape Town peace march · Purple Rain


ANC · IFP · AWB · Black Sash · CCB
Conservative Party · ECC · PP · RP
Broederbond · National Party


P. W. Botha · Oupa Gqozo · D. F. Malan
Nelson Mandela · Desmond Tutu
F. W. de Klerk · Walter Sisulu
Helen Suzman · Harry Schwarz
Andries Treurnicht · H. F. Verwoerd
Oliver Tambo · B. J. Vorster
Kaiser Matanzima · Jimmy Kruger
Steve Biko · Mahatma Gandhi
Joe Slovo · Trevor Huddleston


Bantustan · District Six · Robben Island
Sophiatown · South-West Africa
Soweto · Sun City · Vlakplaas

Other aspects

Afrikaner nationalism
Apartheid laws · Freedom Charter
Sullivan Principles · Kairos Document
Disinvestment campaign
South African Police

Helen Suzman, DBE (November 7, 1917January 1, 2009) was a South African anti-apartheid activist and politician.



Helen Suzman, a native and life-long citizen of South Africa, was born as Helen Gavronsky in 1917 to immigrants. [1][2] She studied as an economist and statistician at Witwatersrand University. At age 19, she married Dr. Moses Suzman (d. 1994), who was considerably older than she. She had two daughters with him before returning to university as a lecturer in 1944. She gave up teaching for politics, being elected to the House of Assembly in 1953 as a member of the United Party.

She switched to the liberal Progressive Party in 1959, and represented the Houghton constituency as that party's sole Member of Parliament, and the sole parliamentarian unequivocally opposed to apartheid, from 1961 to 1974.[3] She was often harassed by the police and her phone was tapped by them. She had a special technique for dealing with eavesdropping, which was to blow a whistle into the mouthpiece of the phone.[4]

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, and 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".[5]

Later, as parliamentary white opposition to apartheid grew, the Progressive Party merged with Harry Schwarz's Reform Party and became the Progressive Reform Party. It was renamed the Progressive Federal Party, and Suzman was joined in parliament by notable liberal colleagues such as Colin Eglin. She spent a total of 36 years in parliament.[6]

She visited Nelson Mandela on numerous occasions while he was in prison, and was present when he signed the new constitution in 1996.[7]

Suzman was awarded 27 honorary doctorates from universities around the world, was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize[8] 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 in 1989.[9] She was voted #24 in the Top 100 Great South Africans TV series.

Suzman died on New Years Day 2009, aged 91.[9] Achmat Dangor, Nelson Mandela Foundation chief executive, said Suzman was a "great patriot and a fearless fighter against apartheid". [10]

See also



  • Suzman, Helen. In No Uncertain Terms: A South African Memoir. New York: Knopf, 1993. ISBN 0679409858

External links



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