n South African Journal on Human Rights - A forum for reason : reflections on the role and work of the Constitutional Court
Helen Suzman Memorial Lecture : discourse and debate

Volume 28, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0258-7203



It is a signal honour to be asked to deliver this lecture in memory of Helen Suzman. There are many reasons why we should remember and honour Helen: her great courage, her principled and unwavering opposition to the policy of apartheid, her undoubted and consistent integrity, and her quick wit and dry sense of humour. But the quality I should like to remind you of this evening is one less often mentioned: the extraordinary diligence and meticulous attention to detail with which she approached every task in her life, but particularly her responsibility as Member of Parliament (MP). This personal quality had, according to Helen, a rather surprising source. In her memoir, , she comments that whenever she felt like shirking something she knew she ought to do, she could hear Sr Columba, the head nun at Parktown Convent, where she went to school, whispering in her ear (with an Irish accent and no doubt firmly) 'Do it child!' and, according to Helen, she always did. I imagine that Sr Columba was perhaps the first and last person that Helen ever obeyed automatically.

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