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They Fought for Freedom – Helen Suzman

| October 13, 2011 | 0 Comments

Author: Gillian Godsell
Publisher: Maskew Miller Longman
ISBN: 978-0-63609-816-9
Reviewed by: Mike Thiel, Headmaster, Dominican Convent

Teaching History in South Africa has always been a tricky job, not because of what to teach, but because of the resource materials with which to do it.

In the They Fought For Freedom series, such luminaries as Biko, Ghandi, Mandela, Tutu and Plaatje are profiled in a bid to ensure that their contributions are understood and remembered. What value this series has brought to our classrooms, and how appropriate that, following her death in 2009, Helen Suzman should be added to this list of significant South African Freedom fighters. Gillian Godsell has done a great job tracing the efforts of this remarkable woman to bring about justice for the people of South Africa. As she reminds us, Helen Suzman’s tombstone reads: “‘Justice! Justice!’ I cried.” What more appropriate model could we use to teach our children about the importance of human rights and justice in our developing democracy?

Text has great value

Arranged in a loosely chronological order, the book outlines her primary work and the methods she used within a ‘white’ parliament to achieve change. It is a story that few others have told, and which will show all ages how necessary it was for opposition to apartheid legislation to come from all quarters. Cleverly, Godsell has provided comprehension-style activities that promote not only factual recall but the developing of higher order thinking skills. The glossary of terminology that is increasingly from an apartheid past is useful and will assist the younger reader. Used as part of a structured History programme, or even an extension programme in English or Life Orientation, this text has great value – not only in describing the times, but also in developing a clear understanding that the courage and integrity shown by one person can have dramatic effect in the face of great opposition.

A must for all libraries

Helen Suzman did not seek accolades in her lifetime – she was not that type of person. What this book repeatedly highlights – shown, for example, in the delightful story of her accompanying Mandela to the signing of the new Constitution in Sharpeville in 1996 – is that when you stand for what is right, people remember you and thank you. Accolades find you. This book is a must for all South African school libraries. Given its format, it could (and should) happily find its way onto the bookshelf of all History teachers passionate about telling the full South African story.


Category: Book Reviews, Spring 2011

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