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Tributes paid to anti-apartheid crusader Helen Suzman

  • Story Highlights
  • Apartheid foe Helen Suzman campaigned for release of Nelson Mandela
  • Constant opponent of South African apartheid regime protested against pass laws
  • For more than a decade she was the only opposition member of parliament
  • Suzman's family says that there will be a memorial service in February
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By CNN Correspondent Robyn Curnow
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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (CNN) -- Anti-apartheid campaigner Helen Suzman, twice nominated for a Nobel Peace prize, died Thursday at her home in Johannesburg, South Africa. She was 91.

Helen Suzman anti-apartheid South Africa

Helen Suzman, pictured at her Johannesburg home in November 2007.

Suzman, a constant thorn in the side of South Africa's apartheid governments, was one of the leading white opponents of the segregationist regime and the only opposition lawmaker for 13 of the 36 years she served in parliament.

She was particularly instrumental in exposing the indignities of the pass laws, which curtailed the movement of black South Africans.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation, in a statement Thursday, called Suzman "a great patriot and a fearless fighter against apartheid." Send your tributes to Helen Suzman.

The African National Congress (ANC), the ruling party in South Africa, also paid tribute, saying: "As a member of parliament and a vocal critic against apartheid, the ANC remembers and respects the contribution of Suzman towards the demise of apartheid."

Suzman told CNN in an interview in 2008 that she was "persistent" in her fight against the injustices of apartheid and used her position to constantly ask uncomfortable questions. Video Watch Suzman's fight against apartheid. »

"I used to put 200 questions a session," she said. "They were all of course designed to expose the atrocities. I made good use of my parliamentary position."

A hugely influential advocate for prisoner's rights, Suzman was one of the first people to visit future South African President Nelson Mandela in jail on Robben Island in 1967, shaking hands with him through his cell bars.

"I knew immediately that this was a man of considerable courage," she said. Suzman continued to work for his release, visiting him frequently in the 27 years he was imprisoned.

Mandela and Suzman remained friends after his release in 1990, often having lunch at her home in Johannesburg, where she said she would serve him "his favorite dish, oxtail."

After she retired from parliament, Suzman continued to play an active role in South Africa's new democracy and was honored by numerous prestigious universities, with 27 honorary doctorates from Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard, Yale and Columbia among others.


In a nod to Suzman's tenacity and legendary sense of humor, the Helen Suzman Foundation Web site writes that one "honor" Suzman was "inordinately proud" of was being declared an "Enemy of the State" by Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe in 2001.

Suzman's family has said that there will be a private funeral this weekend, to be followed by a memorial service in February.

All About South AfricaNelson MandelaAfrican National Congress

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