7 November 2017

South Africa: 100 Years On, the Values and Fighting Spirit of Helen Suzman Are Still Alive

press release

Today 100 years ago, anti-apartheid activist, human-rights activist, former Member of Parliament (MP) and founding member of the Progressive Party, Helen Suzman was born. The Democratic Alliance (DA), today celebrates her life, honours her legacy, and remembers her immense contribution to a free, democratic South Africa.

Helen Suzman used her position in Parliament to relentlessly chip away at the edifice of apartheid South Africa with a tenacity borne of a deep concern for the lives of others and a hatred of oppression. Her doggedness earned her global respect. She embodied the liberal democratic values that now form the foundation of our constitutional democracy, and she embodied the fighting spirit that has hitherto, and still, inspires the Democratic Alliance.

She served as the lone voice against apartheid in Parliament between 1961 and 1974 - six years of which as the only woman in Parliament. As an English speaking female in an Afrikaans male dominated Parliament, she was often subjected to intimidation, sexism and anti-semitism. Yet she was indefatigable, fighting the National Party and embarrassing and exposing the apartheid government. She was indeed a "bright star in a dark chamber".

The National Party showed disdain for any opposition voice, and undermined opposition parties whenever they could. However, Helen was always up for the fight. She used every opportunity to stand for what was right, and to bring international attention to the South African cause.

This was epitomised in a moment in Parliament where Suzman was accused of asking tough questions the government claimed were embarrassing to the country. Suzman famously responded by saying "it's not my questions that embarrass South Africa, it is your answers".

In her time in Parliament, she opposed every plank of Apartheid's legislative underpinning, as well as its philosophical underpinning of racial nationalism. She stood for liberal constitutionalism long before it was fashionable to do so, knowing that the philosophy of racial nationalism and reductionism could not be sustained in the long term.

Today, Helen Suzman's values still course through the veins of the DA. As she said, we "hate bullies, and stand for simple justice, equal opportunity and human rights", and this basic ethos still guides our party today, as does her commitment to a society where race and the circumstances of one's birth does not define their life chances.

The struggle against apartheid had many heroes, all of whom rightly deserve commemoration and remembrance. All of their contributions helped in one way or another to the ending of apartheid and the dawn of democracy in 1994. Helen Suzman is one such a hero, and we honour her today.

Helen Suzman was fortunate enough to live to see the advent of democracy in 1994, but she also saw the beginnings of the ANC's perversion of the Constitution and abuse of power. Until her passing in January 2009, just months before the beginning of the Zuma presidency, she was still a regular contributor to the public debate: always raising the alarm about the divisive racial politics of the ANC, and the capture of the state through cadre deployment for private and political ends. She was clear that 1994 was both the end of one struggle, and the beginning of another.

Helen Suzman laid the foundations for a truly united, prosperous and non racial South Africa for all who live in it. The DA will continue to build on her legacy, until simple justice, equal opportunity and human rights are afforded to all.

Mmusi Maimane

Leader of the Democratic Alliance

South Africa

Is the Net About to Close On Zuma and His Gupta Patronage Network?

It all started with a wedding. A 200 plus entourage of friends and family landed their private aircraft at the… Read more »

Copyright © 2017 Democratic Alliance. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). To contact the copyright holder directly for corrections — or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material, click here.

AllAfrica publishes around 600 reports a day from more than 140 news organizations and over 500 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify allAfrica.com as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.