January 5th, 2009
02:40 PM ET

I helped smear Helen Suzman

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/01/05/art.helen.suzman.jpg]
Editor’s Note: The death of South African anti-apartheid activist Helen Suzman reminds NAM contributor Brian Shott of how his encounter with Suzman in his college days taught him a few lessons about humility and self-righteous zeal. Shott is a freelance writer and editor now living in Oakland.

Brian Shott
New America Media

Anti-apartheid activist Helen Suzman died on Thursday at the age of 91. As accolades from around the world pour in, news reports also mention the controversy she sparked on college campuses in the late 1980s.

I'll say. At my alma mater in Connecticut in 1989, we almost rioted when we heard Suzman had been invited to speak - a fact that, today, fills me with contrition.

Suzman, who helped found South Africa's liberal Progressive Party, was for 13 years the lone voice against apartheid in the South African parliament. She spoke out fiercely against racist legislation, and frequently visited anti-apartheid activists, including Nelson Mandela, in the nation's notorious prisons.

So what was our beef with Suzman at Wesleyan University, a small liberal arts school in Middletown, Conn.?