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helen-suzmanStraight out of school until she retired in ’89, I voted for Helen Suzman’s Progressive Party. I’ve never voted for a political party that ever came to power, but I don’t ever regret supporting Helen’s unique anti-apartheid efforts.

Helen was not only enlightened but affluent and resisted movements that tried to cripple apartheid by crippling the country’s economy. I witnessed so many people escaping South Africa’s crumbling economy in the mid 80’s — our doctors, lawyers and engineers were welcomed in the UK, Australia, Canada and the USA. Concentrating amongst those of us left behind the die hards clinging to white power who couldn’t and wouldn’t leave the country, essentially making the task of liberals edging the country towards democracy that much harder. Helen stayed and used her wealth and influence to change the country.

Helen lived in the elite suburb of Houghton, an enclave of walled in estates which typically epitomised the privilege of the white minority in a largely impoverished black majority country. I recall some conservative students accused her of being removed from the consequences of democracy, that she wouldn’t have to live it the same way that most whites would have to. Rather than defend the moral point, as most politicians would, she simply shot back that she had more to lose than the average white if democracy didn’t work out. So true, to the point and convincing!

Rest in peace Helen, your work is well done!

*Not only was Helen the first person I ever voted for, the party she created and the subsequent forms it morphed into were the only ones I ever voted for. In 2012 I aim to become a US Citizen — opening up a whole new opportunity for me to do some good with my vote. I’m looking forward to that as much as I did when I cast my first vote.

Suggested reading: The New York Times obit “Helen Suzman, Anti-Apartheid Leader, Dies at 91”

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