/ 2 November 2007

Buthelezi: Helen Suzman deserves more recognition

Former anti-apartheid activist and liberal politician Helen Suzman has not been given the recognition she deserves in the new South Africa, Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi said in his weekly newsletter on Friday.

In a tribute to Suzman ahead of her 90th birthday next week, he said she had tirelessly used her position as MP during the Sixties and Seventies to break the apartheid mould in what was then a profoundly undemocratic whites-only Parliament.

Suzman was born on November 7 1917, in Germiston. She was first elected to Parliament in 1953, and served as an MP for 36 years.

Buthelezi said she had been one of the many people ”who were madly pulling at the ropes of apartheid” inside and outside of South Africa.

”Like so many others, she has not been given the recognition she deserves. I hope that this will be rectified.”

History was often shaped by the narrator.

”The presentation of history, for example, at the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, is heavily in the direction of the ruling party and its associates in the struggle.”

However, it now appeared the institution’s display of the role Suzman played had now been expanded.

”It would be a travesty if Mrs Suzman’s role were not given prominent recognition in our struggle narrative.

”Mrs Suzman … demonstrated raw courage in curbing some of the worst excesses of the apartheid government with her forensic parliamentary skills and relentless badgering of National Party politicians to, occasionally, do the right thing.”

Praising Suzman’s legendary debating skills, Buthelezi contrasted these with the level of modern debate.

”She would have been as dazzling in Westminster, the mother of parliamentary democracy, as she was in the old South African Parliament. Heaven knows what she makes of the tenor of today’s debates in the National Assembly.

”While I agree that we must improve the resources available to parliamentarians, their paucity is not a defence for mediocrity.

”When God made Helen, He, to use a well-worn metaphor, broke the mould.

”We won’t see the likes of her again for a long time. Happy Birthday Helen!” — Sapa