WHEN Helen Suzman's father arrived in South Africa from Lithuania at the age of 17, he had little to his name, she says, except stamina. That stamina was clearly part of the inheritance he gave her.
Today she is one of South Africa's most formidable foes of apartheid. As a white liberal, she sits in Parliament calling the government to account, fighting racial discrimination, trying to help political detainees held by the police, and nudging whites to embrace the concept of a multiracial, democratic society.
She has needed her father's stamina, because she has been doing this in Parliament for more than 30 years.
Once she was a lone white voice. Now others have joined her and, though her party is still very much in the minority, she points proudly to the fact that some quarter of a million whites now vote for her concept of what South Africa should be.
There has been a shift in the views of some whites. The tragedy, of course, is that while this has been going on, there has been a shift to a more extreme viewpoint and course of action by some blacks.
Just how much more time South Africa has to avoid a total racial explosion is uncertain.
But Mrs. Suzman is a foe of apartheid with a strong, clear streak of realism.
Those who think there is a ``quick fix'' for South Africa are deluding themselves, she says.
That is why she has opposed sanctions against South Africa. That is why, despite her impeccable credentials as a foe of apartheid, she has been taking the heat while in the United States from those who support sanctions. ``There is a view in the United States,'' she says, `` that if you are not for sanctions you must be a racist. That is nonsense.''
Like another famous white South African liberal, Alan Paton, she wants apartheid to go but does not believe sanctions will do the job.
The white South African government will resist external pressure and circumvent sanctions, she believes. She remembers that when Britain imposed sanctions on the errant white colonial regime in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), the then British prime minister, Harold Wilson, said that it would take ``weeks, not months'' to bring it to its knees. Says Mrs. Suzman: It took 15 years.
Meanwhile, she believes, the brunt of sanctions against South Africa will be borne by blacks. There will be an increase in black unemployment, and for them there is ``no social security safety net, no food stamps.''
She argues that economic expansion in South Africa has given blacks new muscle. Black unions have been authorized and flourish; one of the blacks' most potent weapons has been the ability to launch boycotts of consumer products. Economic decline, she fears, will lessen black negotiating strength. Thus, though there is a ``wave of moral satisfaction'' among Americans over sanctions, she thinks the optimists who believe sanctions will tumble apartheid are hopelessly unrealistic.
The South African government will not crack, she feels. Its military and police are powerful and have as yet ``barely been put to the test.''
What, then, is her answer? Just what she has consistently crusaded for, evolution to a nonracial democracy, with guaranteed protection for all, brought about by dialogue and negotiation.
She thinks jailed African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela is the key. She has been visiting him in prison since 1967. She knew him before he gained his present stature. While there may be communists elsewhere in the ANC leadership, she is absolutely convinced that Mandela is no communist. Only he, she believes, can deal with black radicals who have turned to violence against blacks and whites and placed themselves outside the negotiating arena.
All this is a goal Helen Suzman will go on crusading for with the stamina her father bequeathed her.