Suzman mourned, celebrated
While the loss of Helen Suzman is to be mourned, her life must be celebrated, the Helen Suzman Foundation said on Thursday.
“Whilst we mourn Helen’s passing we simultaneously celebrate not only her many achievements in a life dedicated to bringing change to South Africa but more fundamentally the essence of a remarkable woman,” the foundation said in a statement.
“[Her] spirit touched those she encountered as much as her vigour and clear unambiguous sense of right and wrong inspired them.”
Earlier, Suzman’s daughter, Frances Jowell, said her mother died peacefully on Thursday morning at the age of 91 at her home in Johannesburg.
The foundation said it was deeply saddened at the loss of its patron-in-chief.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and loved ones at this time of personal loss and grief. We extend our deepest condolences to them.”
The foundation said Suzman’s life deeply touched those with whom she came into contact in both the private and public spheres.
“Those who knew her will attest to her sparkling yet resolute nature and deep commitment to and love for the causes of justice, human rights and peace.
“It is this very core set of beliefs that led Helen to a noteworthy public life in South Africa where she dedicatedly fought for the cause of equality and dignity for all and diligently fought the apartheid regime from where she was with what she had.”
For 13 years—from 1961 to 1974—Suzman was the sole representative in Parliament of the liberal Progressive Party, forerunner of the Democratic Alliance.
Suzman has been generally recognised as the most effective parliamentary fighter against the old National Party’s apartheid policies when the NP was at the heyday of its power.
The foundation said Suzman never lost her focus on the daily lives of South Africans and what they endured under apartheid.
“[She] shone the bright light of truth in every nook and cranny of our beloved country’s tortured past with commitment and fortitude.”
“Helen Suzman will be mourned and missed, but the values she held dear throughout her life are universal and will inspire many South Africans young and old to remember her and fight to keep those very values burning brightly in the beloved country for which she too fought bravely”.
“As we mark the advent of a new year we should all mark the passing of a great South African,” said the foundation.
Official opposition Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille said on Thursday that Suzman was a giant in the history of SA’s march to democracy.
“Her clarity of vision, her courage and her firmness of purpose stand as beacons to those of us who seek to take that process further,” Zille said.
“We will ensure that her legacy is never forgotten and we send our deepest condolences to her family.”
Bantu Holomisa, leader of the United Democratic Movement, said she was respected by all communities in South Africa because she fought for a just cause.
“It was Suzman who brought about the culture of opposing government—and her dream of justice was fulfilled when negotiations began in the 1990s.”
Congress of the People head Mosiuoa Lekota said on Thursday that he—and others imprisoned on Robben Island—would always remain indebted Suzman.
“No doubt, those of us who spent years of imprisonment on Robben Island will always remember with gratitude Helen’s dispersed visits to the island to inspect the conditions under which we were kept,” Lekota said.
“She would then return as a lone voice to expose the apartheid regime’s inhuman treatment of political prisoners.”
Lekota said these visits and the subsequent exposure of living conditions on the island led to substantive improvements in prisoners’ conditions of incarceration, “for which we will always remain indebted to her”.
Independent Democrats president Patricia de Lille on Thursday, said it was difficult to imagine South Africa without Suzman.
She said Suzman was part of the generation that was slowly passing on and would be remembered for her huge contribution to the struggle against apartheid.
“The fact that Helen Suzman lived such a long, productive and compassionate life does not take any of my deep sadness away, it is difficult to imagine our country without her,” said De Lille.
She said Suzman was a principled woman and never compromised when it came to the truth.
African National Congress spokesperson Brian Sokutu said the party remembered and respected her contribution towards the demise of apartheid.
“Suzman used Parliament to fight injustices in South Africa. She became a thorn in the flesh of apartheid by openly criticising segregation of blacks by a whites-only apartheid system.” he said.
“Her frequent visits to jailed former ANC leader Nelson Mandela and speaking out against forced removals at Crossroads in the Western Cape and other injustices by then minority white regime, speaks volumes about this stalwart.” - Sapa