In No Uncertain Terms

Helen Suzman began her political career in 1953 as a liberal member of the United Party, South Africa’s official opposition. Elected to the South African parliament that year, she immediately became an outspoken advocate for civil rights, concentrating on the evils of apartheid. She argued against the forced removal of blacks from urban areas and against the imposition of the infamous “Pass Laws” restricting the movements of blacks and requiring them to carry identity cards.

Suzman became estranged from the United Party as it tried to woo Afrikaner voters away from the dominant National Party. She realized that the United Party was losing any distinctive identity and resigned her seat to help form the Progressive Party, dedicated to restoring the franchise to the Coloreds (mixed-raced residents of South Africa)—rights which had been revoked by the National Party’s majority in Parliament—and to extending voting rights to blacks.

For several years Suzman was the only member of the Progressive Party elected to Parliament. She had to withstand merciless criticism and threats to her safety. Yet she never wavered in her support of human rights, in her visits to political prisoners, or in her efforts to alert the rest of the world to the injustice of apartheid.

This strong-minded woman gradually gained the respect of her opponents, many of whom acknowledged that she had helped to chart the course for the “new South Africa.” She writes bluntly about public personalities and politics and says relatively little about her family, probably because she believes that what she stands for is more important than who she is. Nevertheless, she reveals much about her unflinching character simply in the way she tells her life story.