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Jews in Politics

Although few Jews are involved in politics today, this has not always been the case. Many Jews have been elected onto town councils, served as mayors, as members of the Provincial Administration and of Parliament, representing different political parties and shades of opinion.

Cape Town’s Jewish mayors

Hyman Liberman 22 September 1904 – 19 September 1907
Louis Gradner 7 September 1933 – 5 November 1935
Abe Bloomberg, MPC 7 September 1945 – 5 September 1947
Fritz Sonnenberg, MPC 7 September 1951 – 4 September 1953
Alf Honikman 7 September 1961 – 9 September 1963
Walter Gradner 3 September 1965 – 7 September 1967
Richard Friedlander 3 September 1971 – 6 September 1973
David Bloomberg 6 September 1973 – 6 September 1975
Ted Mauerberger 6 September 1977 – 6 September 1979
Louis Kreiner 6 September 1979 – 18 September 1981
Solly Kreiner 6 September 1983 – 3 September 1985
Leon Markovitz 3 September 1985 – 10 September 1987
Patricia Sulcas Kreiner September 1993 – February 1995


Some Jewish members of Parliament

As the Cape Board is located in Cape Town, where Parliament is located, it has since 1919 been expected to monitor and keep a watching brief on any proposed legislation that could impact negatively on the Jews in South Africa. When there were many Jewish MPs, the Cape Council held annual functions to welcome them to Cape Town. The list of Jewish MPs below is not comprehensive:

  • Morris Alexander (Member of the Cape and then the Union of South Africa Parliaments, 1908 to 1946) Founder of the Jewish Board of Deputies of the Cape Colony (4th September 1904) and leader of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, established in 1912. Opposed to the colour-bar, he attacked every measure designed to restrict the rights of non-whites, and was known for his support of the Indian community and the franchise for women. He was friendly with Mahatma Gandhi, who stayed at his house.
  • Morris Kentridge, (SA Labour Party MP, 1920-1958) Helped frame much progressive industrial legislation.
  • Max Sonnenberg (South African party MP, later United Party, 1920-1949) Founder of Woolworths, started a boycott of German goods when Hitler came to power and was very involved in helping German-Jewish refugees.
  • Dr. Bertha Solomon (United Party MP, 1938-1958) One of the first women’s rights activists in South Africa who was responsible for the Matrimonial Affairs Act of 1953, called ‘Bertha’s Bill’ by Prime Minister DF Malan. This piece of legislation gave women the legal right to their property, income and children. She was a chairman of the Women’s Suffrage Campaign and one of the first practising women advocates. Her father was one of the founders of the Dorshei Zion Association in Cape Town.
  • Dr. Henry Gluckman (United Party MP, 1938-1958) Minister of Health and Housing, a pioneer of community health, day hospitals and primary health services in South Africa. He said, “Health services are not a luxury. Without health, there can be no true happiness, no true security, no true wealth.”
  • Senator Leslie Rubin (South African Liberal Party ‘Natives’ Representative’, 1954-1960) Founder of the Liberal Party and a friend of Chief Albert Luthuli. Whenever he got up to speak, Dr. Verwoerd walked out. He went into exile and became chairman of the United States Committee of the Defence and Aid Fund.
  • Sam Kahn (SA Communist Party MP and ‘Natives’ Representative’, 1949-1952) Kahn was expelled from Parliament after the Communist Party was outlawed, and went into exile.
  • Harry Schwarz (MP from 1974-1991, first for the United Party, then the breakaway Progressive Federal Party, then the Democratic Party, of which he was a founder) Like Alexander, Schwarz was a long-serving member of the Board of Deputies. He was a defence lawyer in the 1964 Rivonia Trial and a founder of the Torch Commando to protest against the disenfranchisement of Coloured South Africans. He served as ambassador to the United States and to Barbados.
  • Helen Suzman (MP for 36 years in Parliament, 1953 – 1989, 13 of which were as the sole representative of the Progressive Party) Accused of asking questions that embarrassed South Africa, she responded, “It is not my questions that embarrass South Africa; it is your answers.” She often visited Nelson Mandela in prison.
  • Tony Leon (MP, 1989-2007, first for Progressive Party, then Democratic Alliance, as Leader of the Opposition) Leon was known for his strong criticism of the ANC’s failure to deal adequately with the challenges of poverty, unemployment and HIV/Aids. He is currently the ambassador to Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.
  • Ben Turok, (African National congress MP since 1994) Former anti-Apartheid activist and Treason Trialist who helped draw up the Freedom Charter. He served time in prison under the Apartheid government before going into exile.
  • Ronnie Kasrils (African National Congress MP since 1994) Founding member of Umkhonto we Sizwe and former head of intelligence for the ANC’s military wing. He has served on the ANC’s National Executive Committee, as a member of the SA Communist Party’s Central Committee, as the Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry and as Minister for Intelligence Services.
  • Andrew Feinstein, (ANC MP, 1997-2001) Former chairman of the ANC’s study group on public accounts. He resigned from Parliament when the government refused to launch an investigation into the ‘Arms Deal’.
  • Senator Dr. Ruth Rabinowitz, (Inkatha Freedom Party MP, 1996-2011) Now Director of the MamaEarth Foundation, which is an organisation that promotes renewable energy and climate control.

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