Friday, 2 January, 2009.
One of the few blessings about living in apartheid South Africa was the fact that I was fortunate enough to meet a great many very interesting and committed people.
One of them was Mrs Helen Suzman.
I heard of her death this morning at 3am on the BBC World Service, which I listen to when I wake up.
I lay for a long time, thinking about how fortunate I was that our paths had crossed.
I had long admired her, and in my post as Regional Secretary of the SA Institute of Race Relations (Western Cape) for about two years; 1978 to 1980, the occasion to do this appeared very fortuitously.
The SAIRR was concerned in producing an annual report on various aspects of South African society. It was necessary to go through all the Government Gazettes and many publications to find out exactly how the all powerful state reported its activities in the allocation of funds and amenities to the 'four' population groups, the architect of apartheid, Dr Hendrik Verwoerd had identified.
This could be a laborious, time consuming process. It was therefore extremely difficult for one single person to come to Parliament and debate the inequalities in the system without some help.
It was a privilege and an honour to me to be of assistance to Helen in my specialised field. My special interest had been how it had been possible to deny the African a right to live in the urban areas, and yet claim to afford them access in the Western Cape in what the Government had claimed to be the 'Coloured Labour Preference Policy Area'. It was a Dr Eiselen who had devised this particular apartheid policy.
The government had decreed that there was an imaginary extra longitudinal measurement through the Cape Province, and any African living east of this line could only come to the Western Cape as a temporary migrant worker. My particular interest had focussed on how this had been achieved, and when I completed my Masters degree on the manner in which this had been implemented; by refusing to grant Passes/Permits to any African to come to the Western Cape unless they were on a year's work permit. I was fortunate enough for my thesis to be given a deal of publicity due to the paucity of research into such extremely 'sensitive' subjects.
I had chosen to read for my Masters degree at an Afrikaans University, the renowned University of Stellenbosch, in the very department in which Dr Verwoerd had introduced his particular brand of social engineering. I had chosen to do this as I felt that I could never be able to criticize apartheid if I did not understand how and why so many people believed in it.
I cannot remember how I met Helen, but I believe that it was at the time when several of the squatter bidonvilles camps along the Modderdam road, leading to the University of the Western Cape, were being demolished by the BAAB (Bantu Affairs administration board). This particular arm of apartheid had been created to deal with the Bantu people. This particularly pejorative term was used by a great many people when either researching or examining social conditions pertaining to the African people. I believe that I must have sent Helen a copy of my thesis, and the subsequent published version, and this was how we met.
It was perfectly clear that a person as busy as she was, and with so many commitments would not have the time to devote to going through the masses of obfuscating legislation, which was promulgated in order to both cloud and confuse the main issue. This was to prevent the African from becoming part of the urbanisation process. I offered to send her all the research that I did on a weekly basis, as the Government Gazettes (GG) were published.
From the time I met Helen, until the time I left South Africa - a period of about 10 years, I would receive from Helen every week all the GG which pertained to the 'Bantu', as the African was offensively called. I had all the main Acts in my study. I would go through all the GG and if there was any amending legislation which altered any of the main Acts I would identify them, comment on them, and then put them in Helen's post box in her block of flats.
It gave me the most enormous amount of pleasure to be able to do this. I felt that I was really helping to 'overthrow' apartheid (which of course, was not the case!). I never met Helen except on official occasions, and when I left South Africa in 1991, she was kind enough to send me a book of her friend Nadine Gordimer with a very kind letter thanking me for the work which I had done, obviously in a voluntary capacity.
So, my dear Helen, although you have now left us, you have left your mark indelibly printed on the history of our country. It is sad that I did not see you after I left, but I am pleased that you did at least meet my darling baby brother when you were in New York.
It will always be one of the highlights of my life to have been able to help the democratisation of South Africa through having been able to offer you the work which I had chosen to do.
Thank you for having given me the opportunity to have contributed to it.
You will always be remembered for your quite monumental contribution to the development of South Africa into the free society it is today, under our common hero Nelson Mandela.
With a great deal of affection my dear friend,
Rest in tranquil Peace.