Sunday, January 04, 2009

Helen Suzman z"l

I didn't post anything earlier in the year because I didn't want the blog to start with death death death death death. However, Helen Suzman was a hero of mine when I was a child. My mother's one big political stance was against apartheid, and so we were very conscious of both a lack of citrus fruit in winter (the main imports before Jaffa oranges were Outspan from South Africa, and my mother boycotted them), and those in the vanguard of the fight against it. Thence the respect for Ms. Suzman. She was buried today, as reported thus:

"JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – Leading South Africa's anti-apartheid activist Helen Suzman who died on New Year's Day was on Sunday buried in a private Jewish ceremony attended by top politicians and close friends in Johannesburg. Among the mourners was apartheid South Africa's last president, F.W. de Klerk, current President Kgalema Motlanthe, Winnie Mandela and leader of the opposition party Helen Zille. "I spoke to her a few weeks before her death and she was very concerned about the current state of politics in our country," said De Klerk. "She is was one of South Africa's great icons," De Klerk added. Suzman, a white Jewish immigrants' daughter served in South Africa's legislature from 1953 to 1989-- a lone voice of parliamentary dissent against white minority rule. She died peacefully on Thursday at her home in Illovo,Johannesburg.

"Suzman was my mentor, she was opposed to the abuse of power by the old apartheid government, she was also opposed to the current abuse of power by the current ANC government," said Zille. Prominent rights lawyer George Bizos who represented former Nelson Mandela, during his treason trial described Suzman as an icon who relentlessly fought for equal rights during a difficult period. "She knew that she may not solve all the country's problems but she never gave up," said Bizos.

The diminutive Suzman was born in the mining town of Germiston east of Johannesburg on November 7, 1917 to Samuel and Frieda Gavronsky, both Jewish immigrants from Lithuania. She used her debating time to rail against forced removals, racial inequalities, the erosion of the rule of law, capital punishment, torture, censorship, police abuses and other trademarks of white minority rule. She was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and awarded the United Nations Award for Human Rights in 1978. A public memorial service in her honour will be held in few weeks's time, her family said."

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