Helen Suzman, the paragon of the ‘liberal tradition’ in South Africa and frequent interlocutor for the rightwing Sunday Telegraph on life after apartheid was interviewed by BBC 4 Radio to mark her 90th birthday, where she explained her motivation for going into politics. As reported by News24.com today:
… She remembers that she wanted to pack up and leave the country when the National Party came to power in 1948.
She said she tried to persuade her late husband, Moses, a medical doctor with good contacts in the United States, to leave, but he didn’t want to know about it.
“So, I thought to myself: you’re a clever girl. You can do something. You can become more involved (politically).”
She said the realisation that she would have to make do overseas without household staff, finally convinced her not to emigrate.
“Very selfishly, I wondered who would do all the housework. That clinched it for me, and I stayed and became more (politicially) involved.”
Full story here.
Suzman of course is a formidable political personality and her role in formal opposition to apartheid has to be recognized for what its worth — between 1961 and 1974, she was the only opposition MP in the whites-only ‘Parliament’. [Although it is tiring to see non-South African media referring to her as ‘South Africa’s leading anti-apartheid campaigner.’ Ha?]
When I read the story today, I was not surprised that she holds contradictory views all at once. At best her holding this contradictory views explains for me to some extent her more recent comments about postapartheid South Africa to some media outlets (especially the UK Telegraph, who used Ian Smith — and this is in no way to compare Suzman with Smith who is now invented as a non-racial democrat after his recent death — in that same capacity when it came to Zimbabwe).
The fact that Suzman herself is now so candid, is also illuminating. One explanation may be that this is a sign of age. For me, however, perhaps more positively is the fact that she is not telling the story of ‘no whites ever supported apartheid’ and shows how immersed her own destiny was in white privilege.
However, probably the most curious thing for me in reading this, was that Suzman cites this as motivation for not emigrating and getting involved in ‘politics.’
If you read it literally: she was fighting to keep the help.