Columns 10.11.2017 05:35 am

DA must own its history

Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Mmusi Maimane leads the "March for Change" to the Constitutional Court, 15 April 2016, in Johannesburg. This follows the Constitutional Court judgment, which stated that Jacob Zuma had violated his Oath of Office and the Constitution. Picture: Michel Bega

Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Mmusi Maimane leads the "March for Change" to the Constitutional Court, 15 April 2016, in Johannesburg. This follows the Constitutional Court judgment, which stated that Jacob Zuma had violated his Oath of Office and the Constitution. Picture: Michel Bega

Mmusi Maimane shouldn’t emulate the iconic picture of Nelson Mandela in the latter’s prison cell.

The grande dame of politics, Helen Suzman, would have been 100 years old last Tuesday. She died aged 92 but up to the very last moments of her life, she was young at heart, politically astute and principled.

Her frank condemnations of apartheid atrocities were laced with acerbic wit, humour and self-deprecation against her opponents in parliament.

Sorely missed on the political landscape, it is a shame the Democratic Alliance is not celebrating her life with great fanfare.

Instead, its leader, Mmusi Maimane, tries to emulate the iconic picture of Nelson Mandela in the latter’s prison cell. Given where we’re headed, the official opposition has to start owning its history.

Hers was an illustrious history of breaking from an ossified, racist political party to forge an exciting future for liberalism.

Exposing apartheid’s underbelly fearlessly, her voice was sought across the racial divides of SA and abroad. She would have had no qualms in vociferously condemning the corruption of the Zuma administration.

Before social media, her voice went viral, alerting the world to the depredations of apartheid; she would have had no hesitation in doing the same about the cesspool the ANC has become, its deliberate destruction of the constitution and our law enforcement agencies, to protect one highly fallible individual.

The quintessential liberal, Suzman implicitly understood the sanctity of the rule of law, human rights and an independent judiciary. The DA’s failure to commemorate this profound legacy demonstrates palpably what is wrong with SA.

Our monolithic understanding of history, underpinned by the pernicious tyranny of political correctness, determines who gets memorialised, when and how.

Lest we forget, SA’s diverse histories make up the complex tapestry of where we come from and how we arrived at this godforsaken fork in the road.

The Helen Suzman Foundation’s invitation to a senior ANC leader, Kgalema Motlanthe, to be its keynote speaker at her centennial anniversary signifies an astounding poverty of imagination.

Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela, Ahmed Kathrada and Frene Ginwala have stories as fascinating as Robert Sobukwe, Cissy Gool, Dr Abduraghman, Adv Bennie and Helen Kies, Colin Eglin and yes, Helen Suzman.

Many leaders from diverse ideological viewpoints, who have made a mark in our tumultuous political life, are often ignored or their contributions downplayed.

Suzman not only played a pivotal role in the history of SA, she helped relatives of liberation heroes survive, she leaked information of police brutality and human rights violations of political prisoners to the world. These concerns she carried into her post-political life as a human rights commissioner.

More than being a political icon (a word she abhorred) she was a friend to many, a raconteur of note, who entertained us around her dinner table with laughter that lasted late into the night.

A sworn agnostic, she always asked me to ask my father, who was a pastor, to pray for her. I had the singular honour to be interviewed by BBC radio with her some decades ago.

That juxtaposition of her as a world-renowned politician, against mine, a local black activist, epitomised the story of her life.

FILE PICTURE: Rhoda Kadalie, anti-apartheid activist.

FILE PICTURE: Rhoda Kadalie, anti-apartheid activist.

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