South Africa: Churches pay tribute to Helen Suzman

Churches in South Africa have mourned anti-apartheid campaigner Helen Suzman who died on New Year's Day at the age of 91.

The long-serving parliamentarian was widely acknowledged as a symbol of white opposition the racist regime.

Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, Archbishop of Durban and president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, said: "If ever there was a South African who epitomised the belief that you are never too small to make a difference, it was Helen Suzman."

He described Suzman as a lady of courage and faith, who was never afraid to proclaim the principles of justice and fairness, to stand up for them when the occasion demanded, and to live by them in her public and political life.

"She was a woman of outstanding courage, straight as a die in making her point and fearless in exposing the injustices and inhumanity of the apartheid system and its implementation at various levels, the cardinal added.

But he regretted that while Suzman was happy and proud to witness in her twilight years the transition from apartheid to democracy, it must have broken her heart to have to live through the various manifestations of greed and corruption, of arrogance and contempt for the law and the judiciary which almost equal that of the apartheid regime.

The primate of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town, thanked God for the gift of Suzman,s long and remarkable life, saying: "The Psalmist wrote, 'Who will stand up for me against the wicked? Who will take my part against the evildoers?' (Ps 94:16). We are all grateful that Helen Suzman dared to take that stand, on behalf of so many, and for so long. A voice for the voiceless, her readiness to speak up, no matter what, made an exceptional contribution to the life of our nation, without which we would not enjoy the potential we have today for freedom and democracy.

The archbishop added: "it is for all of us who honour her name to take forward her legacy by continuing to raise our voices wherever that potential is impeded, or humanity diminished.

The daughter of a Lithuanian immigrant, Helen Suzman was born in Transvaal on November 17, 1917. She went to Parktown Convent in Johannesburg, which,s he often said, had great influence in her campaign against apartheid.

Later, she went to Witwatersrand University, from which she dropped out aged 19 to marry Mozie Suzman, a neurologist who died in 1994. After having two daughters, Helen Suzman returned to her course and completed her Economics degree.

It was while at university that she was first roused to the discrimination against which she would protest for the rest of her life. The 1948 election brought to power the National Party, and with it the ideology of segregation which the party promoted until its fall in 1994.

Helen entered the House of Assembly for the first time in 1953 and served for 36 years. As Apartheid took hold, Helen found herself defending the entire range of its opponents, including the jailed activist Nelson Mandela. She retired from active politics in 1989.

In 1997 she was appointed to the Order of Merit (Gold) South Africa. In 2004, Helen Suzman was outspoken about the failings of Mandela's successor, Thabo Mbeki, citing his support for Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, his anti-white speeches and his failure to improve the lot of black citizens.

Source: CISA

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