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ANC: Helen Suzman didn't act against apartheid

Sarah Evans, Nickolaus Bauer

The DA has started its election campaign by trying to rebrand itself as a participant in the fight against apartheid. But the ANC is not buying it.

The Democratic Alliance's pamphlet showing Helene Suzman and Nelson Mandela. (Twitter)

The party circulated flyers this week showing an embrace between Nelson Mandela and Helen Suzman as part of its campaign to fend off the idea that it would bring back apartheid if it were to govern nationally.

But the ANC is not taking the Democratic Alliance (DA)'s message lying down and questioned Suzman's struggle credentials. ANC spokesperson Keith Khoza said this week the DA did nothing to end apartheid and took a swipe at Suzman, saying she "enjoyed the comfort of apartheid Parliament" and "didn't take any action" against apartheid.

The DA's executive director of communications, Gavin Davis, said the party expected criticism from its opponents. He was also not concerned with the potential criticism that it was cheap using Mandela's image for political expediency.

"Politics is a contest over ideas so it [criticism about the campaign] doesn't worry us. We just want more people to know the untold story of our opposition to apartheid."

The campaign, called "Know Your DA", got off the ground with an event in Alexandra last weekend. The party is using door-to-door visits and community meetings, as well as social media, pamphlets and advertisements in newspapers to spread its message.

Wrong perceptions
Davis said the DA was informed by its activists on the ground, as well as by research it conducted, that a perception existed that it would bring back apartheid if it won a national election. It was a view that Khoza holds too.

"Apartheid is ingrained in their DNA and they cannot change. Look at their structures and how they govern. They have a couple of blacks as window dressing but the real power is still in the hands of white Afrikaners," Khoza said.

But Davis said its leaders had a history of fighting apartheid.

"The ANC have peddled misinformation about the DA and its role in fighting apartheid for so long that they cannot recognise the truth when they see it. Their criticism will not hurt our campaign because their version of the past does not stand up to historical scrutiny."

He said Suzman was a founder member of the Progressive Party and its lone member of Parliament for 13 years.

"She led our opposition against detention without trial, pass laws, influx control, job reservation on the grounds of colour, racially separated amenities such as libraries and swimming pools, the Unlawful Organisations Act, Group Areas [Act], and forced removals.

"Our current leader, Helen Zille, helped to show the world the truth about apartheid. In 1977, working as a reporter at the Rand Daily Mail, Zille exposed the truth behind Steve Biko's death. As a result of this, she was prosecuted and found guilty by the Apartheid Press Council. A prominent member of the Black Sash, Zille had to go into hiding as a result of concealing ANC activists at her home during the 1986 state of emergency," said Davis.

Activists
"Joe Seremane was the party's federal chairperson until 2010 and started his career as a school teacher, until he was barred from teaching due to his involvement in politics. He was a political prisoner on Robben Island from 1963 to 1969, before being banned by the apartheid government. He was further detained without trial from 1976 to 1978, and several times between 1982 and 1984.

"Wilmot James is currently the DA's federal chairperson, and his involvement in the struggle reaches back to his days in the South African Students Organisation, which was inspired by the Black Consciousness Movement. James's opposition to the Group Areas Act had him detained and imprisoned.

"Patricia de Lille, currently the executive mayor of Cape Town, has been active in politics for more than 25 years. In 1988 she was elected vice-president of the National Council of Trade Unions. She became an MP in 1994 after leading the [Pan Africanist Congress] delegation in the constitutional negotiations in Kempton Park."

He said the picture of Mandela and Suzman was chosen for the campaign because "Nelson Mandela recognised the role that Helen Suzman played in opposing apartheid and we wanted to convey that message".

The pamphlet carries a quote from Mandela about Suzman: "Your courage, integrity and principled commitment to justice have marked you as one of the outstanding figures in the history of public life in South Africa."

'Just talk'
But Khoza said Suzman's role in ending apartheid was just talk.

"It's known the DA didn't do anything to end apartheid. Even the Progressive Federal Party [evolved from the Progressive Party] might have occasionally made noises but they didn't actually do anything.

"Helen Suzman herself enjoyed the comfort of the apartheid Parliament and did raise valid concerns about the horrors of the apartheid government, but she didn't take any action."

Davis supplied the M&G with a letter, apparently written from former ANC president Chief Albert Luthuli to Suzman.

Luthuli wrote: "In moments of creeping frustration and tiredness, please pick courage and strength in the fact that thousands of South Africans, especially amongst the oppressed section, thank God for producing Helen, for her manly stand against injustice, regardless of the consequences."

Community involvement
Davis said: "Perhaps Mr Khoza needs to go and consult with his leaders, past and present, about what they thought of Suzman's opposition to apartheid and the sacrifices she made."

Davis added that the party was not trying to erase its former white male leaders from its history.

"This [criticism] is completely untrue. In Helen Zille's speech in Alexandra on Saturday for example, she paid tribute to the first leader of the Progressive Party, Jan Steytler. But this campaign is not an attempt to tell the entire history of the DA. It is specifically aimed at correcting the misconception that the DA was somehow responsible for apartheid when the opposite is true."

In particular, the DA wants to target young people with this campaign "who don't know the full story of the DA and its predecessor's opposition to apartheid".

Khoza also accused the DA of doing nothing to uplift black people in the Western Cape.

"The Western Cape is a prime example of how the DA is perpetuating the past," he added. "The big positions in local government go to white males and there is no upliftment of black people."

'Lie'
Davis said this was a "lie" and said 76% of the Western Cape's budget was spent in poor communities.

"That the ANC is willing to perpetuate this lie so brazenly underscores the need for the 'Know Your DA' campaign. We cannot let our opponents define us any longer.

"The truth is that, according to the national census released last year, more people in the Western Cape have access to basic services than any other province. We are turning education around in the poorest schools after 10 years of ANC mismanagement.

"The DA and its predecessors fought apartheid their whole lives. Why would we bring back a system that we have always been resolutely opposed to?"


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