Helen Suzman

By: Chris Trilling

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Life and Accomplishments

Parliamentarian, Human Rights Activist, sole representative of opposition party (the Progressive Party) in parliament during apartheid. Helen Suzman was born in the South African mining town of Germiston on 7 November 1917 to Samuel and Frieda Gavronsky, both immigrants from Eastern Europe who had come to South Africa to escape the restrictions imposed on Jews by Russia. She was brought up in a family which was financially stable, and was educated at a convent and thereafter at the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS). Helen was to become one of South Africa's most famous white parliamentarians and human rights activists.

Significance to Anti-Apartheid Movement

In 1959, 12 MPs, including Helen, broke away from the United Party and subsequently formed the Progressive Party, with an openly liberal program of extending rights to all South Africans with a qualified franchise. In the general election of 1961, the Progressives were virtually wiped out, and only Helen retained her seat. As the sole voice of South Africa’s oppressed, Suzman became known for her strong public criticism of the governing National Party's policies of apartheid at a time when this was unusual amongst white people.
Helen Suzman honoured