Suzman buried in Jewish ceremony

Flags were flown at half-mast in South Africa in tribute to Suzman, who died at her Johannesburg home on Thursday at the age of 91.

helen suzman 88 (photo credit: )
helen suzman 88
(photo credit: )
Helen Suzman, who spearheaded the battle against apartheid in South Africa's parliament, was buried in a private Jewish ceremony at Johannesburg's Westpark Cemetery on Sunday. Flags were flown at half-mast in South Africa in tribute to Suzman, who died at her Johannesburg home on Thursday at the age of 91. Several hundred people attended the funeral, including friends, family and top politicians. Among those attending were President Kgalema Motlanthe; apartheid South Africa's last president, F.W. de Klerk; opposition leader Helen Zille; and Winnie Mandela, the former wife of ex-president Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela did not attend, apparently because he was unwell. However, his foundation issued a statement saying, "Our country has lost a great patriot and a fearless fighter against apartheid." Suzman was the first MP to visit Mandela in jail during his long incarceration on Robben Island. She was also critical of the post-apartheid African National Congress government on such issues as fighting AIDS, crime and unemployment. Suzman also sparked a controversy by claiming that the ANC, which has ruled South Africa since the demise of apartheid in 1994, had played down the role of white liberals in the struggle against white rule. "I spoke to her a few weeks before her death and she was very concerned about the current state of politics in our country," said de Klerk. "She was one of South Africa's great icons. "Suzman was my mentor," said Zille. "She was opposed to the abuse of power by the old apartheid government. She was also opposed to the current abuse of power by the current ANC government." Archbishop Desmond Tutu called for an official state funeral to be held in February. "She was a true heroine who contributed to our country's peaceful transition when many predicted a racial bloodbath," Tutu said. "South Africa is a poorer place without her... We owe her an immense debt. The least a grateful nation should do to show its appreciation for her contribution is to afford her an official funeral." Government spokesman Thabo Masebe said on Saturday that the Suzman family had declined the government's offer of a state funeral, saying it preferred a public memorial. In Israel, Benjamin Pogrund, the director of Yakar's Center for Social Concern and a former top journalist in South Africa, said he would remember Suzman as helping anyone who was a victim of apartheid. "My treasured memory of Helen Suzman is that she would take up the cause of anyone who was a victim of apartheid. She was uncaring about skin color, religion or political belief," he told The Jerusalem Post. "All that mattered was that someone who was suffering had come to her for help. This made her uniquely brave and wonderful in that era of oppression." Suzman is survived by two daughters, Frances and Patricia, and two grandchildren. News agencies contributed to this report