national Arts Festival Banner

Monday, January 5, 2009


Farewell to Helen from Des and Dawn Lindberg.

Theatre luminaries Des and Dawn Lindberg pay tribute to the late Helen Suzman, former parliamentarian, staunch Liberal and feisty activist - a truly great South African.

Farewell to Helen from Des and Dawn

Friend, leader, energy, intellect and light,
It was your courage and vision that got us this far.
As we mourn with the world, we’ll never lose sight of the generations who steer by your star.

You’re were our antidote for despair and despond.
A serum against venomous events.
A voice of conscience, and care and beyond,
a call to common sense.

Standard bearer where standards were at stake.
Benchmark of the values that make or break.
Motivator, mover, shaker.
Always the giver, seldom the taker.
If ever you feared, you never let on,
and you never let the little bastards get you down

Thank you, Helen, for the hope you brought us.
For your courage and the values you taught us.
For your leadership of the rarest kind.
For your unflagging humour, and the power of your mind

But above all, thank you for these ninety one years
you have given to a land, immorally in arrears.

Whatever our misgivings, trepidation or despair.
We never had need to look elsewhere!

Sometimes we called you, just to find out what we should do to combat doubt,
and whenever we called or gave you a shout,
you smiled and explained what South Africa’s about.

DAWN’S MEMORIES OF HELEN: Helen was our only true mentor and icon for our entire adult lives, an inspiration and strength when we were rebellious maverick folk-singers in the coffee bars of Hillbrow in the 60’s, and then fighting for multi racial theatre in the Supreme Court with our production of Godspell in the early 70’s.

Helen was in the audience and in court, giving us the inspiration and courage to fight. She was described by the Catholic Archbishop of Pretoria at the time as “The only Christian in Parliament!”

We affectionately called her “Auntie Helen”, which she always accepted with delight, and when our first son, Joshua was born, the very first gift (a bottle warmer) to arrive at the hospital was from Auntie Helen.

We attended all of her Parliamentary Report Backs at Houghton Primary, where we were awed by her boundless knowledge, fearless fight for Democracy and dry wit, as the only Liberal voice in Parliament for over 13 years, and way the best voice of reason for 36 years. Helen was the only Parliamentarian regularly to visit Madiba and his comrades on Robben Island.

She was a person of supreme intelligence, integrity, dignity and style. Always impeccably dressed, with piercing blue eyes and a beautiful smile; modest, feisty and fearless.

We were privileged to write and perform a special song for her at her retirement and to be guests at her 90th birthday party last year, where, although in a wheel chair, she was as articulate as ever and spoke extempore for over half an hour....

She was truly a great South African, along with Madiba, Nthatho Motlana, the embodiment of everything our Constitution stands for; may her diminutive body rest in peace while her gigantic legacy and spirit live on in the History books and the conscience of our Land.

DES’ THOUGHTS ABOUT HELEN’S LEGACY: ”At a time when a complacent white electorate believed that they would be calling the shots forever, Helen was alone and frank and categorical in her scorn for this blindness. The historical environment was unyielding, and to utter what most whites found unthinkable was both courageous and dangerous. The point of the policies she and her colleagues offered South Africa at that time and in that context was to enable whites calmly and rationally to explore ways of extending democratic rights to all South Africans as an alternative to the suicidal policy of Apartheid.

I was personally present when she addressed a meeting in Johannesburg shortly after the publication of the Molteno Report.. She was asked by a questioner why a “qualified franchise”. Her reply was unambiguous: She told the meeting that South Africa would sooner rather than later have universal suffrage, and a government elected by the majority of all our peoples. She never fudged the eventual outcome. She fervently believed in one person one vote, and publicly said so. Remember that the fear of the white electorate was the cornerstone of what Apartheid was built upon.

Poet Olga Kirsch wrote:
“Die fondamente van die fort was vrees,
Haat het die deure een vir een gesluit.
Nou loer die bouer deur ‘n skietgat uit,
En durf die muurskrif agter hom nie lees”

For Helen Suzman to have dared to offer the then electorate the possibility of escaping from the claustrophobic South African blockhouse, without perishing, was inventive, reassuring, and empowering. I for one shudder to think what might have happened had she not been the relentless and determined voice of the voiceless.

Helen represented a constituency vastly wider than Houghton. She was always modest, gracious, and profoundly concerned about the plight of victims of injustice, committed to liberal values, never losing sight of the need to address the wrongs of the past in a positive, generous and constructive way.

Helen never gave up, and certainly never allowed the Machiavellian National Party government to use her as a pawn. This set her aside from the laughable charade of the old United Party. From the time I first met her, and heard her universal franchise message loud and clear, she gave me hope and focus when South Africa was losing heart, and some of its best talent to Oz , the USA and Canada. In her dignified and visionary way she led whites away from complacency and towards enlightenment.

Her role was immeasurable. I can only thank her and celebrate her for her exceptional human wisdom and rare political intellect. She earned her place and paid her dues among the mothers of the struggle”.

What we said to her just weeks ago when she turned 91 “We thought of you a lot as you turned 91 with such wit and grace. Thought of you, too, as we witnessed the Obama victory on TV. Which of us would have dared prophesy that middle America would find the strength to vote a black man into the White House?

What it must be like for you to have opened the paper every day and seen wrongs being righted, little by little, with the benefit of more hindsight than most will ever be able to claim, coupled with the granite wisdom your vision brought to guide your comrades in fighting a good fight? Yes, we were all “comrades”, and there can never be copyright registered on that title!

We remember the agony of naming new liberal allegiances and alliances in the jerky journey from Prog to Prog Reform, to Progfed, to DA, and we chuckle at the Shikota shuffle being performed around who should own resounding worlds like “Congress”, “National”, or “Struggle”, or “People”!

South Africa is only now beginning to know what your leadership meant to every South African. We pledge ourselves to keep that flame burning for a rare spirit who truly made a difference. - Des and Dawn Lindberg