A Fond Farewell to the Helen Suzman Foundation

2013-09-05 20:43

I have recently resigned from the Helen Suzman Foundation where, for the past six months, I have served as its principal legal research intern. While I intend to write more fully of my time there, and the state of civil society more generally, at a later stage, I thought I would share my resignation letter, and its thoughts about liberalism, more widely. Hopefully, other liberals will be able to associate with what I have to say.

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Dear Colleagues

It is with great sadness that I write this covering letter to my Handover Report.

While my departure was known, it does not make this process any easier. You have all, collectively and individually, made a significant impact on me. I will fondly look back on my time at the HSF as one where learning, challenging and being challenged were part of the everyday routine.

I did not know how lucky I was, how lucky you are, to have been part of that, until it came time to saying goodbye and it suddenly dawned on me that I would lose the collegiality, intellectual rigour and warmth that I had grown accustomed to since March this year.

I hope that for as long as the HSF may exist, you continue steadfastly in the mission that you proudly inherit from Helen Suzman herself: to stand up for justice, equal opportunity and human rights. While these ingredients may universally be agreed upon as being necessary for the health of any democracy, standing up in defence of them is no easy feat, especially in an increasingly polarised South Africa.

However, while it may be easy to write of what is going wrong with South Africa, it is more worthy, I think, to write of what is going right. South Africa is a young democracy and though we may experience difficulties, some more acutely than others, there is much to be proud of. 50 years after true independence, free from external and internal tyranny, not many other countries could claim the (qualified) successes that we have, thus far, enjoyed, after only 20 years of freedom.

Liberals have never found a natural constituency because liberalism itself is antithetical to accepting anything unquestioningly. Thus, even though we, as a country, may have achieved much, and there is indeed much to be proud of, Liberals such as us must make people keenly aware that we can, and must, do more.

The HSF forms part of those few, but significant, successes. While it is only natural that we may hope for more to have gone right more quickly, that the HSF is part of the societal bulwark which continues to protect the Constitution and all that it symbolises is something which you, collectively, should be proud of.

The ethos of the HSF is one that I am sure Helen Suzman herself would be proud of. The thankless and tireless task of voluntarily taking ‘unpopular’ positions in order to defend, protect and promote liberal constitutional democracy comes at great personal and organisational expense. It is easy to alienate one from one’s opponents but it is even harder when one must alienate oneself from one’s friends.

The true test as to whether we stand for and live by Helen’s simple, yet awe-inspiring quotation, appended to our emails as a constant reminder to us, and others, of what our mission shall be, is whether we stand for the truth without fear or favour, whether we stand for what is right though it may not be easy, whether we play by the rules no matter the cost to us.

People of all races, genders and belief-systems would do well to be reminded that these ideals are worth striving for. They are lucky that they have the HSF there to remind them of it. And you should be proud that that is what you do.

I wish you everything of the best for the future and hope that, in time commencing upon my return, my work with the HSF may continue, even though it may be in an altogether different role.

Yours Sincerely

Kameel Premhid

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