- It is not for me to comment on the recent spat between the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the African National Congress (ANC) regarding the use of the photograph of Nelson Mandela and Helen Suzman. The Foundation holds no copyright over this photograph. However, as the director of the foundation that bears her name, I wish to respond to aspects of the recent, ill-judged statements by the ANC’s parliamentary spokesperson, Moloto Mothapo, that were published by the Mail & Guardian on 26 April to 2 May 2013.
Mothapo seeks to undermine the important role Suzman played in the struggle against Apartheid. In this response, I cannot correct all of his inaccuracies, half-truths and misrepresentations. However, I must respond to the claim that, by her participation in Parliament, Suzman somehow served to ‘legitimise an unjust order’, and even ‘made her complicit in the horrors unleashed against the majority, and made her role morally indefensible’. These charges are a grotesque distortion of the truth.
It is striking that Mothapo’s recent statement is in sharp contrast to the previous acknowledgment by the ANC, after her death on 1 January 2009, that, it "Remembers and respects the contribution of Suzman towards the demise of apartheid." The President himself attended her funeral. Mothapo seeks to dismiss the ANC acknowledgment by putting it down to his interpretation of Ubuntu which, he suggests, teaches us never to talk ill of the departed. However, the tradition not to speak ill of the dead cannot, by its nature, explain comments made about a person in their own lifetime. I wish to recall a few of the acknowledgments made by eminent leaders of the anti-Apartheid struggle regarding Suzman’s role. These were made long before she passed away in 2009.
In 1963, Albert Luthuli, then President of the ANC, wrote to Suzman and expressed his “Deep appreciation and admiration for your heroic and lone stand against a most reactionary Parliament...I most heartily congratulate you for your untiring efforts in a situation that would frustrate and benumb many... For ever remember, you are a bright star in a dark chamber...Not only ourselves - your contemporaries, but also posterity, will hold you in high esteem”.
In 1964, Ruth First wrote to Suzman stating,“I admire tremendously your sledge-hammer attack on [the 90-day detention law] and so many other vital issues. In the House at least you have to fight almost single-handed and, apart from the scandal that the real anti-Nationalist fight has been whittled down to the efforts of one intrepid member, you seem to get in as many blows as any team could manage.”
In 1965, Veronica Sobukwe (wife of Robert Sobukwe) wrote describing Suzman as a “Parliamentarian of outstanding competence, whose integrity is unimpeachable and one who has made a name for herself as an untiring champion of liberty for all men, irrespective of race, colour or creed.”
In 1986, Winnie Mandela wrote (in a manuscript inscription on a book she gave her) to her ‘dearest friend Helen’ and predicted, “One day the nation will honour your tremendous work – your fight for our human rights. You’ve always truly been one of us.” In 2007, Winnie Madikizela–Mandela again wrote calling her a “wonderful faithful loyal friend...not only for me but every black South African whose life you have touched.”
In 1989, upon her retirement and while he was still incarcerated in Victor Verster Prison, Nelson Mandela paid tribute to Suzman in the following terms,“None can do more than her duty on earth. The countless tributes you received on your retirement from Parliament show that you acquitted yourself beyond words.”
Mandela went on to recognise her important role in the demise of Apartheid and the emergence of a democratic South Africa. In 1995, in a further manuscript inscription, he described her as a ‘redoubtable veteran of many campaigns’ and one ‘who has contributed impressively to the victory of the democratic forces of our country’. In 1998, he wrote again, calling her “A world famous veteran freedom fighter who has earned enormous respect far beyond the borders of our country.” In 2002, in a message for her 85th birthday, he paid tribute to her and noted that her “Courage, integrity and principled commitment to justice have marked you as one of the outstanding figures in the history of public life in South Africa” and to let her know “how fortunate our country feels for having had you as part of its public life and politics.”
These statements were made when Suzman was very much alive. They cannot be explained away by the tradition of not speaking ill of the dead.
What did Suzman do to deserve this acknowledgement and praise? Were all of these freedom fighters mistaken? They were not.
She stood up in Parliament and opposed Apartheid unequivocally. For 13 years, she was the only MP to do so. She took on every Apartheid bill and subjected it to criticism of the most penetrating, detailed and coruscating kind. Utterly fearless and devastatingly articulate, she confronted the scores of Nationalist MPs and bullying ministers. She took them on, time after time, in speech after speech. Mothapo speaks nonsense when he seeks to imply that she supported bills that ‘limited the rights of black South Africans’.
Contrary to Mothapo’s suggestion, she consistently opposed racial discrimination of any kind. She opposed the Tricameral Parliament in 1983 because it sought to permanently disenfranchise black South Africans. And, to avoid any doubt, her non-racial approach always extended to the franchise. It is correct that, in the early days, her party was in favour of a franchise based on certain basic educational or property qualification. It was never one qualified by race, and from 1978, the party supported an entirely unqualified and universal adult franchise. Suzman was unwavering in her support for a Bill of Rights and the principle of the rule of law - defining features of our current liberal constitutional democracy.
It is a matter of public record that she not merely vociferously opposed the use of violence by the Apartheid regime, but repeatedly exposed in Parliament many of its worst instances.
Indeed, one of Suzman’s most important contributions was to use her Parliamentary position to highlight the injustices and violence of Apartheid and bringing to light facts that would otherwise have been covered up. She did this by posing question after question in the House, thereby evading the censorship that then existed and bringing numerous iniquities to light. When told by a minister that her questions were an embarrassment to South Africa, she famously retorted that it was not her questions but his answers that were the cause of the embarrassment. She also famously and repeatedly called for Mandela’s release - as for so many other political prisoners. This is all recorded in Hansard.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, she used her Parliamentary position to assist the many victims of Apartheid. With her famous expression ‘go and see for yourself’, she purposefully went to see what was happening, and she acted on what she saw - often with crucial implications for people’s lives. In particular, she played an unparalleled role in visiting prisons and improving conditions for political prisoners.
Mr Mothapo refers to Anthony Sampson’s mention in his Authorized Biography of her disagreements with Nelson Mandela over the use of violence. But he omits to quote Mr Sampson’s other text: “Mandela was convinced that Suzman was basically on the prisoner’s side. ‘It was an odd and wonderful sight’ he wrote, ‘to see this courageous woman peering into our cells and strolling around our courtyard’. Suzman reported back on the inhuman conditions...Soon afterwards...conditions began to improve. The prisoner’s saw Suzman’s visit as a turning point: had she not come, wrote Neville Alexander, ‘there is no saying what might have happened’”.
Her all-important visits to Robben Island, and the improvements in the prisoner’s lives that derived from them, were just the tip of the iceberg. She visited the banned and the banished. She fought to obtain amnesties and passports and exit visas for countless political (and non political) prisoners. She pleaded for scores and scores of individuals who were victims of the pass laws and group areas and racial classification. She took up the causes of literally hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals. She used her powers of persuasion and threats of exposure with ministers and officials to obtain redress. Her desk was a veritable harvest of the seeds of Apartheid and she worked tirelessly to try to help every one of those that sought her assistance, black, white or coloured, rich or poor, famous or unknown.
Mothapo suggests that she enjoyed the “comfort and privileges of the apartheid parliament.” This is a travesty of the truth. For her work in opposing Apartheid she was vilified and abused, in Parliament and out. Her phone was tapped, her letters opened; she received abusive phone calls and death threats. Hers was a difficult and immensely courageous stand.
Suzman disagreed with the ANC about the use of violence and about the advisability of sanctions against South Africa. Like many other eminent liberals, she believed that economic development combined with peaceful mass action and union activity would be the more appropriate and effective means to hasten the demise of Apartheid. Whether they were right or wrong, is for historians to debate. But these were differences about tactics, not about the desired objective.
Mothapo cites a statement by Joe Slovo in 1983 that,"Mrs Suzman and I may both be against apartheid but we are certainly not both for liberation." It is not entirely clear what Slovo, a fearless fighter against Apartheid but also a supporter, then, of Soviet-style Communism meant by ‘liberation’. But, at least when it came to Mandela’s position, it is clear that, while differing on the methods of achieving it, they shared essentially the same objective. That objective was the creation of a non-racial and genuine democracy for South Africa, with basic freedoms and the Rule of Law. In July 1989, Mandela wrote to Suzman making this very point. He wrote: “The consistency with which you have defended the basic values of freedom of the rule of law over the last three decades has earned you the admiration of many South Africans. A wide gap still exists between the mass democratic movement and your party with regard to the method of attaining those values. But your commitment to a non-racial democracy in a united South Africa has won you many friends in the extra-parliamentary movement”.
In the forward to her autobiography, Mandela records Suzman’s ‘magnificent battle against apartheid’ and, as recently as 2007, in a letter on her 90th birthday, he reiterated that her “role in the struggle against apartheid and in the building of democracy was an extraordinary one – one not easy to forget, and one that should never be forgotten.” I therefore trust I am not alone in believing that Mothapo has misrepresented Suzman’s contribution. We should never forget her extraordinary public role, a role which should be celebrated by everyone in our democracy, including Mothapo.
- Francis Antonie is director at the Helen Suzman Foundation.
The National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) has placed some of the blame for service delivery problems on Minister in the Presidency, Trevor Manuel, after he raised concerns about the civil service.
NEHAWU spokesperson, Sizwe Pamla, points out that, "What he forgot to mention was that the current government has spent the last couple of years trying to reverse some of the disastrous policy positions that he championed as the Minister of Finance."
Pamla is of the view that Manuel supported neo-liberal macro-economic policies, and privatisation, outsourcing and public-private partnerships that had proven ‘disastrous for the public sector’.
To read the article titled, “Manuel lying about Apartheid,” click here.Source:iAfrica.com
The African National Congress (ANC) in KwaZulu-Natal has dismissed claims by former president, FW De Klerk, that the party is responsible for the widening inequality gap in the country.
The party’s provincial secretary, Sihle Zikalala, points out that, "The ANC...views De Klerk's comments as nothing more than a red herring to deflect attention from the shocking figures which were released by Stats SA [Statistics South Africa] as part of Census 2011 and which showed that white South Africans are still way better off economically than their fellow black compatriots."
Zikalala, argues that the De Klerk Foundation is a proof that the discourse of apartheid denialism in South Africa is ‘in the ascendancy’, adding that apartheid did not end in 1994 when the democratic government took over.
To read the article titled, “ANC: De Klerk foundation proof apartheid denialism 'in ascendency',” click here.Source:Mail & Guardian
Former president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, FW de Klerk, says he has long abandoned the view that separate development is the answer to South Africa’s challenges.
In an apparent attempt to calm the storm begun by his recent controversial remarks on former apartheid homelands, the former president says that his comments were ‘misunderstood and misinterpreted’ because they were a reflection of a view he held in the ’60s and ’70s, when he believed SA’s problems could be justly resolved by recognising the right of all citizens.
De Klerk raised eyebrows when, in an interview with CNN, where he appeared to defend separate development and bantustan states by saying that people in homelands were not disenfranchised because they voted, and that the homelands had existed historically.
To read the article titled, “De Klerk was ‘taken amiss’ on separate development,” click here.Source:Business Day
The Council for the Advancement of the SA Constitution (CASAC) says that former president, FW de Klerk, must retract comments he made in a CNN interview.
CASAC says it condemns in the strongest terms what it calls the ‘reckless attempts’ by former president FW de Klerk to justify and defend the apartheid system.
CASAC chairperson, Sipho Pityana, points out that De Klerk's comments made a ‘mockery’ of his claims of being committed to fostering a democratic South Africa.
To read the article titled, “De Klerk must retract comments,” click here.Source:News24
The FW de Klerk Foundation says that former president FW de Klerk's comments about the homeland system during a CNN interview were taken unfairly out of context.
In a press statement, the foundation states that, "The interview dealt with De Klerk’s views as a young man. He tried, as frankly as he could, to explain what motivated him at the time.”
It further says that since the mid 80s, De Klerk has accepted that the policies that he supported as a young man were wrong and that there was not any possibility of justly settling South Africa’s complex problems on the basis of territorial partition.
In the same vein, Democratic Alliance parliamentary leader, Lindiwe Mazibuko, has described De Klerk's comments as ‘unfortunate and disappointing'. Mazibuko is of the view that the comments also undermine the work the former president did in pursuing reconciliation for the country.
To read the article titled, “De Klerk taken unfairly out of context – foundation,” click here.Source:News24
Nobel prize winning author, Nadine Gordimer, has condemned the Protection of State Information Bill (Secrecy Bill), calling it a threat to freedom in South Africa.
In an article titled ‘South Africa: The New Threat to Freedom’ published on the website of the New York Review of Books, Gordimer compares the Bill to apartheid laws.
She points out that, "The right to know must continue to accompany the right to vote," adding that the Bill, “Has been and continues to be seen as an obvious means of concealing the corruption that has become a way of South African life for many".
To read the article titled, “Info bill a threat to freedom: Gordimer,” click here.Source:News24
Some academics believe large sections of the government that are institutionally ineffective or dysfunctional are the result of what they call ‘value-driven system’ of government.
Professor Karl von Holdt, an academic from the University of the Witwatersrand and a commissioner on the National Planning Commission, states that many South Africans’ lives remain largely untouched by the dismantling of apartheid.
Von Holdt further says that many South Africans feel that they have not experienced any visible improvements in their day-to-day lives, adding that this has led to protests by communities.
To read the article titled, “Call to put skills before ideology in the public service,” click here.Source:Business Day
Twenty-five South Africans who suffered at the hands of the apartheid security police have claimed a small victory after a United States court ratified a settlement between the claimants and General Motors.
Khulumani Support Group attorney, Charles Abrahams, has been quoted as saying that, "The settlement is a small amount. It was a show of good faith on the part of General Motors, considering that they are bankrupt."
The claimants and the Khulumani Support Group, a lobby group for financial reparations for victims of apartheid, will share an amount of $1.5-million.
To read the article titled, “US General Motors settles apartheid reparations claim,” click here.Source:Mail & Guardian
A Cape Town boulevard has been officially renamed after the late anti-apartheid MP Helen Suzman at a ceremony in the city.
City mayor, Patricia de Lille, who remembered Suzman's contribution to the fight against apartheid, pointed out that, "Today we rename Western Boulevard after one of the greatest stalwarts of the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa, Helen Suzman."
De Lille says Suzman, who was born 94 years ago, stood firm in her fight to end racially oppressive tyranny despite 'intimidation, slights, threats and many other challenges'.
To read the article titled, "Helen Suzman honoured in Cape Town," click here.Source:The Citizen