Helen Suzman, R.I.P.

Helen Suzman, the longtime leader of the parliamentary opposition to apartheid, has died at 91. The Times of London writes:

Helen Suzman had a special place in South African history, being generally recognised as the most effective parliamentary fighter against apartheid policies.

For 13 years - from 1961 to 1974 - she was the sole representative in Parliament of the liberal Progressive Party, forerunner of the Democratic Party.

In South Africa they knew the difference between liberals and leftists. Plenty of leftists and communists opposed the National Party and its apartheid system. But so did liberals like Suzman, people committed to human rights, freedom of thought, and a market economy. She did not forget her liberalism when apartheid finally fell and the African National Congress came to power. She continued to speak out against repressive policies and the Thabo Mbeki government’s continuing support for Robert Mugabe.

I loved reading about her quick wit in parliamentary debates. She sent the minister of law and order a postcard from the Soviet Union, saying, “You would like it here. Lots of law and order.” Once she told a government minister to go into the black townships and see their appalling conditions for himself. He would be quite safe, she said, if he went “heavily disguised as a human being.” In a famous exchange a certain minister shouted: “You put these questions just to embarrass South Africa overseas.” To which she coolly replied: “It is not my questions that embarrass South Africa – it is your answers.” When an Afrikaner in Parliament sneered at her Jewish roots and asked what her ancestors were doing when his were bringing the Bible to the “savages,” she snapped, ”They were writing the Bible.”

In 1989 Helen Suzman was a Distinguished Lecturer at the Cato Institute. See a picture on page 55 of this very large pdf of our 25-Year Annual Report. Her remarks were reprinted in Cato Policy Report and then in Toward Liberty, our compilation of essays from our first 25 years, and can be read here.

On the first day of the new year, the world has lost one of its great champions of freedom. May she inspire many more.