Suzman, Helen

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Suzman, Helen

Helen Suzman, 1917–2009, South African politician and anti-apartheid activist, b. Helen Gavronsky, grad. Univ. of Witwatersrand (1940). The daughter of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants, she taught at her alma mater (1945–52) and was elected (1953) to parliament as a member of the opposition United party. Unhappy with the party's tolerance of racial segregation, she helped found (1959) the liberal Progressive party. Fearless and outspoken in debate and the only member of her party in parliament from 1961 to 1974, Suzman was long the lone voice in parliament openly opposed to apartheid. In 1967 she first visited the Robben Island prison, where many black activists were held. She met and befriended Nelson Mandela there, returned frequently, and worked to improve the prison's appalling conditions. Suzman retired from parliament in 1989 and served as president of the South African Institute of Race Relations (1991–93) and a member of the Human Rights Commission (1995–96).

See her memoir, In No Uncertain Terms (1993); study by M. Pimstone (1973, repr. 2005).

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