Stanford University News Service



CONTACT: Stanford University News Service (650) 723-2558

South African apartheid foe Helen Suzman receives Ralston Prize

STANFORD -- When Grant Kolling was a teenager in South Africa, Helen Suzman was "the butt of all jokes" in his mostly white neighborhood. Kolling, of Chinese descent, more than once was pummeled by other teenagers for defending her.

Now a city attorney for Palo Alto, Kolling took off from work March 20 to meet the famous South African apartheid foe when she delivered the Ralston Lecture at Stanford Law School.

Unfortunately, Suzman, 78, wasn't able to chat with well-wishers. She briefly collapsed near the end of her speech and was wheeled off the stage of Kresge Auditorium by paramedics. Doctors at Stanford Hospital said she suffered from dizziness, lightheadedness and momentary loss of consciousness but initial tests did not reveal the cause. Suzman, who insisted for quite a while that she could finish the speech, apologized to her audience of 300, saying she was suffering from "a very bad cold." She was released from the hospital after a night of observation.

Not meeting her was a disappointment for Kolling, but at least, he said, he got to hear most of her speech uncensored by South African news media. As a teenager in the 1960s, he said, he was never quite sure if the reports he read accurately portrayed her.

Those reports did reveal the formidable tongue of this daughter of Eastern European Jewish immigrants. Law School Dean Paul Brest told the audience of the time Suzman urged a former South African prime minister to visit South Africa's black townships, but to go "heavily disguised as a human being," and of the time she scolded President Nelson Mandela for being "sexist" after he had referred to her as "the only man" in South Africa's whites-only parliament.

Suzman, who was a member of that parliament for 36 years and its only opponent of apartheid for 13, traced the factors that she believes led to the decline and end of apartheid from the early 1980s on. "Over and above all," she said, "was black resistance." While she did not deny the impact of economic sanctions from outside, she reiterated her view that they should not have been undertaken because thousands of black South Africans lost their jobs in a country with no social support system. That exacerbated crime and violence, which, she said, continues to be one of South Africa's major problems. "I'm at risk of being stoned today," she said, "because I know Stanford was in favor of sanctions."

Other internal factors in the decline of apartheid, she said, included the Botha government's recognition of the right of black trade unions to strike, which was intended to impose compulsory arbitration on wildcat strikers but which also gave black workers more power; the repeal of skilled and semi-skilled job reservations for whites and coloureds as a result of labor shortages; and the repeal of laws restricting the movement of blacks, which, she said, was the most important to her because "it changed the whole social structure," allowing, among other things, black workers to live with their families.

Other external factors, she said, included the international sports boycott of South Africa and the breakup of the Soviet Union, which reduced the ruling party's ability to portray itself as an important bulwark against communism.

As for her own role, Suzman said that when black resistance led to state declarations of emergency, "my value as a member of parliament was much enhanced because the press was unable to report what was going on." Journalists could report, however, what