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Veteran Anti-Apartheid Politician Announces Her Retirement

May 16, 1989

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ Helen Suzman, considered the country’s most steadfast anti-apartheid politician, announced today that she will retire in September after 36 years in Parliament.

Mrs. Suzman, 71, is the longest-serving member of Parliament, having represented the same Johannesburg constituency since 1953.

From 1961 through 1974, she was the only legislator representing the anti- apartheid opposition and often cast the sole vote against discriminatory or repressive laws.

She announced she would not seek re-election on Sept. 6, when a general election will be held for the white, Asian and mixed-race chambers of Parliament. She has campaigned consistently to extend political rights to the black majority, which has no representation in Parliament.

Mrs. Suzman has represented four liberal parties, the first three of which either merged with or were replaced by another. Starting in 1959, she represented the Progressive Party, which later was broadened and renamed the Progressive Federal Party.

In April, that party joined with two other anti-apartheid factions to form the Democratic Party.

Harry Oppenheimer, the industrialist who has helped finance anti-apartheid political parties, wrote of Mrs. Suzman last year: ″Our hope and our faith owe more than any of us can say to the career, the personality and the example of Helen Suzman.

″For 14 lonely years as the sole Progressive in Parliament, she kept alive a proper respect for human dignity, a deep sympathy for human suffering, and a hatred of all cruelty and injustice.″

Probably more so than any other white elected official, Mrs. Suzman won the trust and good will of black activists. She attended funerals of slain militants, traveled frequently to black townships and in 1987 finished ninth in a poll asking black newspaper readers who they would like to see as president.

She also has met several times with imprisoned black nationalist leader Nelson Mandela and repeatedly has called for his release.

In 1985-86, at the height of political unrest in black townships, Mrs. Suzman refused to join militant anti-apartheid leaders in calling for punitive economic sanctions aganst South Africa. She said such measures would make whites more resistant to change and prevent blacks from making economic gains that would help them acquire political leverage.

″I absolutely understand the moral outrage against apartheid. I share it,″ she said in 1987. ″But I cannot support the practical results of this policy (of sanctions).″

She received the United Nations Award of the International League for Human rights in 1978, and has twice been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.


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