South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid

Helen Suzman

(November 17, 1917 - )

Helen Suzman was born in Germiston in 1917. She was educated in a convent and thereafter at the University of Witwatersrand. In 1937 she married Dr. Moses Suzman and together they had two daughters. Between 1941 and 1944, Suzman worked as a statistician for the War Supplies Board. In 1944 she started lecturing in Economic History at the University of Witwatersrand, but then entered politics when she represented the United Party (UP) in Parliament in 1953. Six years later she founded the Progressive Party (PP) and became its sole representative in Parliament. During her time in Parliament she defended the right to freedom of expression for all South Africans and used every opportunity to speak and put forward questions. In 1974 six colleagues joined Helen in Parliament.
As a Member of Parliament she was able to visit prisons, amongst them Robben Island, and inspected the living conditions of prisoners. In 1975 she tackled gender discrimination, especially in the cases of Black women. In 1989 she retired from Parliament while remaining actively involved in South African politics. The Universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard have awarded her honourary doctorates. Her struggle against apartheid won her the United Nations Human Rights Award in 1978 and in 1980, the Medallion of Heroism. The Helen Suzman Foundation was been established to promote liberal democracy in South Africa.


This biography is from South African History Online. Used by permission. 
AODL African Studies Center MSU Matrix NEH