Suzman, Helen (1917–)
Suzman, Helen (1917–)
South African anti-apartheid activist. Name variations: Dame Helen Suzman. Pronunciation: Sooz-man. Born Helen Gavronsky, Nov 7, 1917, in Germiston, South Africa; dau. of Samuel Gavronsky (businessman) and Frieda (David) Gavronsky; University of the Witwatersrand, B. Commerce, 1941; m. Moses Meyer (Mosie) Suzman (physician), Aug 13, 1937; children: Frances Suzman; Patricia Suzman.
Parliamentary opponent of apartheid, who championed human rights and the rule of law, 1st came to public attention as a leading figure in Women's Action (1952), an organization to mobilize women against the Nationalist government; as a United Party (UP) candidate, stood for nomination for the parliamentary seat of Houghton (1952); won the nomination, and in the 1953 general election was returned as a member of the House of Assembly; was member of Parliament (MP) for Houghton (1953–89); as an opposition member, believed her main role was to hold the government to account; used her parliamentary platform to speak out against the horrors of apartheid and to try to help its victims; also campaigned on behalf of women's rights: her 1st speech in Parliament, where for 6 years she was the only woman among 166 MPs, was in the debate on the Matrimonial Affairs Bill, an early milestone on the road to legal equality for women; continued to fight for such equality, making major contributions in Parliament (1975, 1984, and 1988), and pleading for the participation of more women at the 1st meeting of the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA, 1991); often at war with the conservative elements in her party, showed 1st act of defiance when her party initially supported the Separate Amenities Bill (1953), which provided for racial segregation in public places; resigned from the UP in disgust when it voted against the grant of more land to Africans (1959) and helped form the Progressive Party (PP), which opposed racial segregation root and branch; was in effect the entire parliamentary opposition, for the UP offered little or no resistance as many key apartheid laws were enacted; a woman of great political courage, was left to battle alone. Of South Africans of the 20th century, only General Jan Smuts, Archbishop Tutu, and Nelson Mandela were more honored internationally; invested as a Dame of the British Empire (1989).
See also memoirs In No Uncertain Terms (Ball, 1993); P. Lewsen, ed. Helen Suzman: The Solo Years (Ball, 1991); J. Strangewayes-Booth, A Cricket in the Thorn Tree: Helen Suzman and the Progressive Party (Hutchinson, 1976); and Women in World History.