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South Africa's anti-apartheid activist Helen Suzman buried

4/01/2009 - 11:36

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Hundreds of mourners gathered Sunday for the funeral of anti-apartheid campaigner Helen Suzman, who for decades was South Africa's most famous white crusader against segregation.

Suzman died Thursday at the age of 91. She was the longest-serving member of the country's white parliament and waged an often lonely battle to enfranchise the black majority.

Mourners at her funeral included President Kgalema Motlanthe, opposition leader Helen Zille, former president F.W. de Klerk and ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe.

Suzman became one of the few whites to earn respect from black South Africans when she started making regular visits to Nelson Mandela, the black nationalist leader sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964.

Recalling Suzman's first visit to B-Section of Robben Island prison in 1967, Mandela once said: "It was an odd and wonderful sight to see this courageous woman peering into our cells and strolling around our courtyard. She was the first and only woman ever to grace our cells."

Suzman and Mandela, who was released from prison in 1990, became close friends after he was elected South Africa's first black president in 1994.

Mandela, who has mainly kept out of the public eye in recent years, did not attend the funeral.

Her arch foe President P.W. Botha dubbed her "Mother Superior" in sarcastic reference to her scolding attacks on the Nationalists. She once said of Botha: "If he was female he would arrive in parliament on a broomstick."

Suzman was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and won praise from human rights organizations around the world for her crusade against apartheid.

She was born Helen Gavronsky to Lithuanian immigrant parents in Germiston near Johannesburg on November 7, 1917, and married physician Moses Suzman in 1937. They had two daughters.

(Reporting by Phumza Macanda; Editing by Janet Lawrence)


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