Tuesday, January 6, 2009




By Raenette Taljaard:
Jan 06, 2009

A memory that will sustain us through the hot rhetoric of electoral politics
Suzman’s funeral showed us the kind of society we are capable of when differences are put aside

THIS year will be marked by many challenges including our fourth democratic elections, which will call for an unprecedented level of tolerance and voter vigilance. But it has started on a sombre note — the passing of a lioness of parliament and tireless campaigner who contributed to the existence of the very rights we will be exercising this year.
A lone lioness in the den of apartheid

Those of us who knew Helen Suzman well and treasured her will be aware that our elections are without her vigilant, ardent and avid participation. She fought with every fibre of her being to realise the right that we have to build and strengthen a democracy free of oppression.

Helen will be sad to have missed these polls and their outcome, as her daughter Frances has attested in interviews. Her irrepressible spirit and political passion were always evidenced in how closely she followed events and how nothing escaped her attention.

Helen’s passing has started off the year in a sombre and reflective mood. Her passing marks the end of an era and reminds us to treasure a generation of leaders from an era infinitely more complex than ours, one that was marred by moral quagmire and disrespect for the basic and fundamental rights and freedoms of the majority of our people. They are a generation of leaders whose collective example contains a treasure trove of lessons and examples that we would do well to emulate as we confront our country’s many complex challenges in an increasingly turbulent and uncertain world.

But Helen’s funeral did not only carry profound messages of farewell. It contained the promise of the kind of society we are capable of being when we set our differences aside to focus on what matters, on what unity about core challenges could deliver for us all.

Those at the funeral included all Helen’s treasured friends and ANC, ID, DA and Cope leaders, and President Kgalema Motlanthe, former president Thabo Mbeki, former state president FW de Klerk, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, George Bizos, former Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson and too many other dignitaries to list.

The sight of former and current political foes, who have, with the passage of time, developed a degree of civility, carrying a great daughter of our soil to her final resting place will be emblazoned on the memory of all who were present to pay their last respects to Helen.

It is a fitting memory that will sustain us through the harsh blows and hot rhetoric likely in the electoral politics of this year.

But for a few moments of reflective silence, it was entirely appropriate that we all paid tribute to her passing with the unity that we try to forge when we lay the ghosts of our past to rest, as Helen’s dear friend, Mamphela Rampele, has exhorted us to do so many times.

In the words of Sowetan’s warm editorial tribute to Helen: “For many South Africans, being called a liberal was a swearword. Yet, by the values she lived and not only shouted from the relative comfort of parliament, Suzman gave democratic liberalism an admirable face and a soul. Even those who might not have agreed with her political views would agree that she was a remarkable woman for whom ideology was not just dogma but a guide to how she could contribute to the true humanity of all.”

The passing of Helen Suzman also confronts us with the question of how to ensure an enduring legacy of a life well lived and a contribution to the better instincts in humanity that must be recorded for posterity.

It is a challenge we must confront collectively because we have a duty to future generations of South Africans to inspire them with the messages of individual responsibility to change.

Given the complexity of our past, it is a solemn responsibility to ensure that this becomes an inter-generational legacy of inspiration that born-free South Africans can draw on as they shape the future of the country that the “golden generation” has bequeathed to them.

It is an inter-generational legacy that carries the seeds of the possibility of building a non-racial narrative of reaching out across divides that must inspire, motivate and propel more young leaders to take up the torch and continue the march.

This will be the most fitting legacy of all to Helen and others of the “golden generation”.