Culture

Helen Suzman, RIP

|

First Miriam Makeba died, and now we've lost Helen Suzman, the leading classical liberal opponent of apartheid. From The Australian's obit:

suzman

The most celebrated white champion of the anti-apartheid movement, Helen Suzman was the South African MP who for 36 years consistently denounced the iniquities of racial segregation. Often, she was the sole politician in South Africa's parliament to campaign vociferously against apartheid. For six years, she was also the only woman among 165 MPs, enduring the contempt of male parliamentarians who viewed white supremacy as a birthright, and to whom liberal was a dirty word.

Undeterred, Suzman used her privileges as an MP to gain access to areas forbidden to the general public: prisons, black townships and "resettlement areas" in the tribal homelands. At every step she highlighted the evils of the system.

David Boaz has posted a nice tribute to Suzman at the Cato blog:

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."

Boaz notes that Suzman "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." She was a consistent classical liberal in another way, too: She favored free markets as well as human rights, and she understood that the two ideals were linked.