Statement from the Foundation on the death of Helen Suzman

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Jan 1, 2009 – Following the announcement by her family that Helen Suzman passed away at age 91 this morning, I would like to express the deepest condolences from the Nelson Mandela Foundation. Our country has lost a great patriot and a fearless fighter against apartheid.

We remember how Mrs Suzman was one of the very few members of Parliament who protested against apartheid legislation, including the May 1, 1963 promulgation of the General Law Amendment Act or “the Ninety Day Detention Law” – the beginning of South Africa’s notorious system of detention without trial.

When as President of South Africa, Mr Mandela bestowed upon Mrs Suzman the Order of Meritorious Service (Gold) in 1997, he commented upon her courage, saying: “It is a courage born of the yearning for freedom; of hatred of oppression, injustice and inequity whether the victim be oneself or another; a fortitude that draws its strength from the conviction that no person can be free while others are unfree.”

In 1967 Mrs Suzman visited Mr Mandela in prison for the first time. In B-Section on Robben Island, his fellow Rivonia Trialists referred her to Mr Mandela as their spokesperson and he conveyed their grievances about prison conditions. Remembering the visit, Mr Mandela later said: “Mrs Suzman was one of the few, if not the only, member of Parliament who took an interest in the plight of political prisoners.” He added: “It was an odd and wonderful sight to see this courageous woman peering into our cells and strolling around our courtyard. She was the first and only woman ever to grace our cells.”

– From: Achmat Dangor Chief Executive of the Nelson Mandela Foundation

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