Helen Suzman

As the lone member of the Progressive Party for thirteen years of her 36-year career in the South African parliament, Helen Suzman questioned the apartheid government and served as an important ally of Nelson Mandela. Suzman taught economic history at the University of the Witwatersrand and became involved in politics after the National Party came to power in 1948, winning her seat in Parliament in 1953. She focused her efforts on civil liberties, equal rights for women, and ending racial oppression. A brilliant orator in an era where government censorship meant parliamentary debate was sometimes the only way for South Africans to get news of their own country, Suzman once retorted to a cabinet minister, “It is not my questions that embarrass South Africa, it is your answers.” In 1967, she met Mandela during an inspection of prison conditions and became his advocate, drawing international attention to him when he could not be quoted or have his photograph published. Twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, Suzman received the United Nations Award of the International League for Human Rights in 1978 for her ongoing efforts for social justice.


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Helen Suzman in 1959.

Courtesy of the Barnard Center for Research on Women.

Date of Birth

South Africa

Date of Death
Professor, Politician

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Helen Suzman." (Viewed on July 21, 2019) <https://jwa.org/people/suzman-helen>.


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