IT took a single individual to stand up for what she believed in, to create a wave that would change the course of history in South Africa. Helen Suzman is remembered for being one of South Africa's first white female anti-apartheid leaders who started a career in politics in 1961, to rid South Africa of human injustices and an unjustifiable hatred towards individuals of a different skin colour.
Suzman joined the United Party and was actively involved in politics for 36 years, 13 of those spent as the only opponent of racial discrimination in the South African parliament.
She received harsh criticism by the Nationalist apartheid government and its members for standing up for the rights of the oppressed, and opposing laws such as the Group Areas Act, job discrimination based on skin colour and public amenities allocated to certain racial groups.
Little light is shed on the history of opposition parties in South Africa. Leaders who fought against apartheid are not all equally honoured if even remembered.
The success or failure of a party has depended predominantly on its leadership. Political parties have either fallen by the wayside post-1994 or have grown in numbers as their party's goals have matched those of their voters.
Throughout the history of the DA, several anti-apartheid leaders have taken over the reins, aligning the party with the core purpose of its existence. Leaders such as Colin Eglin, who served for more than 45 years in parliament and was a founding member of the Progressive Party and a predecessor of the Democratic Alliance, was awarded the Liberal International's Prize for Freedom 2012 for his efforts.
This award is given to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to human rights and political freedoms.
Harry Schwarz made his mark in South African opposition politics in 1951 when he first joined the United Party. An inspiring and strong leader, Schwarz's outspoken nature lead to his expulsion from the party in 1975.
He signed the Mahlabatini Declaration with Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, a declaration meant to provide a blueprint away from National Party apartheid. The development of a multi-racial society through federalism, a bill of rights and consultations had begun.
Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, a well respected former politician, businessman and academic, was referred to by President Jacob Zuma as a principled patriot who served his country diligently. Other tributes to him include "a living embodiment of active citizenship" and a "person who left South Africa better than what it was".
An apartheid-era opposition leader with an Afrikaner upbringing, Van Zyl Slabbert acknowledged the faults that existed in an apartheid system.
Fast forward to 2013 and we see a female face in leadership once again but this time she does not stand alone. Helen Zille is flanked by men and women across the racial divide standing together to fight against poverty, corruption and discrimination to create an equal opportunity society.
As we celebrate Human Rights Day, let us honour the men and women who fought for the freedoms we can enjoy today.
Sandra Pow Chong, Port Elizabeth