Politician Harry Schwarz dies

2010-02-05 19:04

Johannesburg - Harry Schwarz, who spent his career in South African opposition politics, died on Friday at the age of 85.

"Harry Schwarz will be remembered for his signal contribution to the development of our democracy," Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille said.

"He had strong leadership qualities and could inspire people to great achievements.

"He was an outstanding debater, both inside and outside Parliament. He could stand his ground against all-comers," she said.

Schwarz began his career in the United Party (UP) in 1951 when he was elected to the Johannesburg city council.

He and other liberal reformers took control of the party in the then Transvaal in 1974.

In an election the same year he was sent to parliament as an UP MP.

Signed deal with IFP

This experience was short-lived as he found himself expelled from the party the following year after he signed the Mahlabatini Declaration with Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

The declaration was meant to provide a blueprint away from National Party apartheid.

It provided for a multi-racial society through federalism, a bill of rights and consultations.

After his expulsion he formed the Reform Party which later merged with Helen Suzman's Progressive Party to become the Progressive Reform Party (PRP).

The PRP later became the Progressive Federal Party (PFP) and the parliamentary opposition to the NP.

Schwarz also became one of the founders of the Democratic Party (DP), the forerunner to today's DA.

DP's 'fatal mistake'

He was, however, extremely critical of the DP's political merger with the New National Party (NNP), successor to the old NP.

"The DP made a fatal mistake by merging with the Nats. It should have sought an alliance with black political groups.

"There's room for a black party in which whites play a part [but] at the moment the DA will go nowhere," Schwarz said in a 2008 interview with the Financial Mail.

"The other problem with a white party at the moment is that it draws its support from a section of the population that previously supported the Nats," he said.

Schwarz concluded his public career as South Africa's ambassador to the United States from 1991-1994.

Schwarz was also a practising lawyer. In 1964 he defended Jimmy Kantor during the Rivonia trial. Kantor had been Nelson Mandela's lawyer until he was himself indicted and put on trial.

Zille said Schwarz was dedicated to fighting the racial nationalism of apartheid due to the formative experience of Nazism and World War II.

Joined SA Air Force

Schwarz arrived in South Africa as a Jewish refugee from Germany in 1936 according to the SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD).

He joined the SA Air Force in 1942 and fought in the war as a navigator.

"His principled and steadfast resistance to racial nationalism was rooted in the key role he played in fighting Nazism during World War II," Zille said.

"He continued his resistance to racial nationalism through his long and distinguished career in South African opposition politics."

Schwarz also served as an executive member of the SAJBD from 1983-2000.

"[Schwarz was] one of the last of a generation of German Jewish refugees from Nazism who came to South Africa in the 1930s; he rendered sterling service to his adopted country," the SAJBD said in a statement.

He is survived by his wife Annette and three sons, Jonathan, Allan and Michael said Zille.