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Harry Schwarz

South African activist

Died when: 85 years 268 days (1028 months)
Star Sign: Taurus


Harry Schwarz

Harry Heinz Schwarz (13 May 1924 – 5 February 2010) was a South African lawyer, statesman and long-time political opposition leader against apartheid in South Africa, who eventually served as the South African Ambassador to the United States during the country's transition to majority rule.

Schwarz rose from the childhood poverty he experienced as a German-Jewish refugee to become a lawyer and a member of the Transvaal Provincial Council, where from 1963 to 1974, he was Leader of the Opposition.

In the 1964 Rivonia Trial he was a defence lawyer.Advocating a more aggressive political opposition to the National Party's racial policies in the 1960s and 1970s, as Leader of the United Party in Transvaal and leader of the liberal "Young Turks", he clashed with the United Party establishment.

He pioneered the call in white politics for a negotiated end to apartheid and in 1974 signed the Mahlabatini Declaration of Faith with Mangosuthu Buthelezi for a non-racial democratic society in South Africa.

He was in the opposition for over 40 years and was a founding member of the Democratic Party.In light of his record, his appointment as South African Ambassador to the United States in 1990 was widely heralded as symbolic of the government's commitment to ending apartheid, and played a significant role in renewing the nation's image as the new democratic South Africa.

As a South African Air Force World War II veteran during the 1950s, Schwarz co-founded the Torch Commando, an ex-soldiers' movement to protest against the disenfranchisement of coloured people in South Africa.

Described as South Africa's "most feisty politician" and a political "maverick", he was known for his parliamentary clashes with the apartheid government over its racial and economic policies.

In his political career spanning 43 years, in which he gained respect from across the political spectrum, he never lost an election.

In 1988 he received the Order for Meritorious Service and received several Honorary Doctorates.He was also one of the South African Jewish community's foremost leaders and spoke out strongly against anti-semitism.

Schwarz was described by the University of Stellenbosch as "one of the conceptual and moral fathers of the new South Africa" in the sense that he had not only been one of apartheid's most prominent opponents, but his ideas and the initiatives he had taken had played a key role in the development of the concept of a negotiated democracy in South Africa, based on the principles of freedom and justice.

Nelson Mandela, a friend of his whom he visited while in prison, described him as a "champion of the poor".

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