Helen Suzman Never Gave Up

helen_suzman.jpgAppearances deceived where Helen Suzman was concerned.

The petite and elegant figure, clad in two-pieces or nicely pressed slacks, her hair Thatcher-perfect, was clearly a denizen of the northern suburbs of Johannesburg, where discreet black domestics clipped the acacias and golf was played at weekends.

Houghton, rich and Jewish, was indeed her constituency, and privilege was her life. But there the comfortable impression ended. Among the solid and overwhelmingly male Afrikaners in Parliament, “baying like hounds at a meet”, she was noisy, rude, contemptuous, “thoroughly nasty when I get going”.

“A vicious little cat”, said P.W. Botha, South Africa’s prime minister, who often felt her claws in him.

“The honourable member does not like me,” he observed once in Parliament. “Like you? I can’t stand you,” came the spitting reply. Verwoerd, an earlier prime minister, a man she admitted she was “scared stiff” of, fared no better. “I have written you off,” he told her. “The whole world has written you off,” she retorted.

Jan 8th 2009
The Economist