Helen Suzman

By Lindsey Beaudoin


Helen Suzman was born in 1917 in a South African mining town called Germiston. She attended school at a convent and later at the University of Witwatersrand, and went on to become one of the most well known white civil rights activists in South Africa. In 1937, she married Moses Suzman, and with him she had two daughters. She became a member of Parliament in 1953 as part of the United Party, but soon broke away from the UP along with some other members to form the Progressive Party, which focused on the establishment of equal rights for all in South Africa. By 1961 Suzman was the only Parliamentary member remaining in the party; she became its sole voice. She was publicly critical of the NP's apartheid policies, and was an activist in this issue and many others as well, such as those of the death penalty and gender inequality. She retired from Parliament in 1989 but remained connected with various groups and committees for the rest of her life, continuing her involvement with politics. She died in 2009 at the age of 91.

Suzman was awarded honorary doctorates by a number of universities and received the UN Human Rights Award in 1978. She also won a Medallion of Heroism in 1980, and was a two time nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. Her autobiography was an inspiration against injustice in South Africa, and her own Helen Suzman foundation was established to advocate for democracy in the country.

In the Anti-Apartheid Movement

Helen Suzman was very significant to the anti-apartheid movement. She was its sole representative in Parliament; thus she was very importance to the direct influence of the movement on the government. Described as fearless and energetic, she had the ideal personality for a civil rights activist and this was a partial contributor to her success. Her persistence and will to work for what she wanted led to large victories surrounding the repeal of many apartheid related bills, many of which she played a major role in. She also interacted with the poor on a daily basis, showing that she wanted to establish relationships with the people she wanted to help; her great care for the work she was doing was evident. Her strong work ethic and kind but determined personality made her a very influential figure in the fight against apartheid.
Helen Suzman on meeting Nelson Mandela

Works Cited

Helen Suzman, 1961. Digital image. Wikimedia.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.


Helen Suzman. Digital image. Hnp.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2015. http://www.hnp.org.za/site/uploads/pics/Suzman_Helen-177.jpg.

Helen Suzman on Meeting Nelson Mandela. Perf. Helen Suzman. Five Star Films, 2009. 2 Jan. 2009. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.

"Helen Suzman." Sahistory.org. South African History Online, n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.

Uys, Stanley. "Helen Suzman." Theguardian.com. The Guardian, 1 Jan. 2009. Web. 15 Nov.