Biography

Helen Suzman

Helen Suzman, DBE (1917 – 2009) was a South African anti-apartheid activist and politician. Born Helen Gavronsky, she studied as an economist and statistician at Witwatersrand University. At age 19, she married Dr. Moses Suzman. She gave up teaching for politics, being elected to the House of Assembly in 1953 as a member of the United Party. She switched to the liberal Progressive Party in 1959, and represented the Houghton constituency as that party's sole Member of Parliament, and the sole parliamentarian unequivocally opposed to apartheid, from 1961 to 1974.She was often harassed by the police and her phone was tapped by them. Suzman was noted for her strong public criticism of the governing National Party's policies of apartheid at a time when this was atypical of white South Africans, and found herself even more of an outsider because she was an English-speaking Jewish woman in a parliament dominated by Calvinist Afrikaner men. She visited Nelson Mandela on numerous occasions while he was in prison, and was present when he signed the new constitution in 1996. Suzman was awarded 27 honorary doctorates from universities around the world, was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and received countless other awards from religious and human rights organizations around the world. Queen Elizabeth II made her an honorary Dame Commander (Civil Division) of the Order of the British Empire in 1989. Suzman died on New Year’s Day 2009, aged 91. Achmat Dangor, Nelson Mandela Foundation chief executive, said Suzman was a "great patriot and a fearless fighter against apartheid".

Helen Suzman was awarded the Nahum Goldmann medal in 1993. The Medal is awarded by the WJC to distinguished persons for their contribution to universal humanitarian causes and actions benefiting the Jewish people.