Vietnam started it; I was always destined to be politically aware, that was unavoidable in my family, coming from a huge extended family with an Irish Catholic background; politics was never far away from us and as me and my brothers grew up we all grew to accept that it was important; while never allowing it to get in the way of the normal teenage pursuits of wine women and song + of course “fitba” Vietnam was on the Tele. and it spawned a massive protest movement which in turn attracted non conformist writers, singers and agitators of every hew. Add in the Civil Rights Movement and the South African struggle, top it up with a new young generation with ‘attitude’ who were the first generation since the end of WW 11 and the whole volatile mix exploded into what we now refer to as “the sixties” this background made me think of recent events.
When an icon from your youth passes away you tend to look back and analyse what he / she meant to you. The recent death of Helen Suzman is such a case, during the struggle against the evil Apartheid State of South Africa we would march, demonstrate and boycott the hell out of everything to do with S.A. and through it all her name was a constant which represented courage and justice, I remember reading about her defiance of the State and speculating that we would inevitably be reading about her demise in a tragic accident at some time. The fact that that, never happened is in a big way down to the profile she enjoyed and her talent for getting into the international news, quite simply she was too well known and too well respected for the white supremacist thugs who ran the apartheid state to make her disappear, despite constant threats and harassment for years she never blinked in their presence.
The love and respect shown to her by people like Mandela and Desmond Tutu and their remarks following her death speak volumes; I’ve often wondered what she would have had to say about Israel which she supported, while at the same time advocating justice for the Palestinians. I think that the presence of this awkward and courageous Jew in Israeli politics over the last 40 or so years would not have been comfortable for them; a couple of Helen Suzmans in today’s Knesset would be a good thing. All those years ago she was being heard by football playing young men in a peripheral housing estate in Scotland, so we can say to tyrants everywhere, someone is always watching or listening and the world is watching still. Helen Suzman along with people like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Mandela and many more like them are the hope of the world.