DA: Name opposition’s hall after Helen Suzman

2009-01-06 00:00

Cape Town — Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille has called for Parliament’s historic Marks Building, which houses the opposition parties in Parliament, to be renamed after celebrated anti-apartheid campaigner Helen Suzman.

Suzman died last week at her home in Johannesburg, aged 91.

Addressing a media briefing yesterday, Zille said she has called on National Assembly speaker Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde to take part in plans to commemorate Helen Suzman in Parliament.

In a letter to Mahlangu-Nkabinde, Zille said naming the Marks Building after Suzman, as one of the foremost opponents of apartheid, would be an appropriate symbolic gesture. She asked the speaker to place the matter on the agenda of the next meeting of the Parliamentary Oversight Authority.

“Naming the building after Helen Suzman would be a fitting way to honour the legacy of a woman who, for a long time single-handedly, fought to legitimise the notion of political opposition at a time when the governing party vilified and persecuted its opponents. For 13 years, between 1961 and 1974, hers was the sole voice in Parliament to oppose apartheid. It is also the appropriate way to commemorate publicly her contribution towards building a non-racial society based on constitutional democracy,” Zille said.

The DA leader said that, after the transition to democracy in 1994, Suzman — and many like her — were given insufficient public recognition for the role they played.

“Ironically, the incoming ANC government actively sought to minimise her legacy: one of the first things it did after the 1994 election was to take down her portrait in Parliament. That portrait was rescued from the parliamentary cellars by [former DA leader] Tony Leon and now hangs in the DA caucus room … We would like to rehang her portrait in a prominent position in Parliament.”

Zille said that what is often forgotten in the tributes to Suzman is that she opposed power abuse, corruption, patronage and racism in government both before and after 1994.

“It was welcome and appropriate that President Kgalema Motlanthe ordered the nation’s flags to be flown at half-mast and personally attended Helen’s funeral. I trust the government will now back this up by supporting a tangible and significant gesture that will serve as a permanent tribute to Helen Suzman’s legacy … ” she said.

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