Ruth First and Joe Slovo in the War Against Apartheid
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Ruth First and Joe Slovo, husband and wife, were leaders of the war to end apartheid in South Africa. Communists, scholars, parents, and uncompromising militants, they were the perfect enemies for the white police state. Together they were swept up in the growing resistance to apartheid, and together they experienced repression and exile. Their contributions to the liberation struggle, as individuals and as a couple, are undeniable. Ruth agitated tirelessly for the overthrow of apartheid, first in South Africa and then from abroad, and Joe directed much of the armed struggle carried out by the famous Umkhonto we Sizwe. Only one of them, however, would survive to see the fall of the old regime and the founding of a new, democratic South Africa. This book, the first extended biography of Ruth First and Joe Slovo, is a remarkable account of one couple and the revolutionary moment in which they lived. Alan Wieder’s deeply researched work draws on the usual primary and secondary sources but also an extensive oral history that he has collected over many years. By weaving the documentary record together with personal interviews, Wieder portrays the complexities and contradictions of this extraordinary couple and their efforts to navigate a time of great tension, upheaval, and revolutionary hope.
with Jewish signs everywhere: kosher butchers, synagogues, bakeries, and delicatessens lining the streets. Finally, recent immigrant children attended the school. Joe Slovo was born in the village of Obelei in Lithuania in 1926. Later in life he visited his birth village twice, ﬁrst in 1981 with his Soviet friend Alexei Makarov, and then again in 1989 with Makarov and Joe’s second wife, Helena Dolny. In the introduction of Slovo: The Unﬁnished Autobiography, Joe speaks of his early years. He
delegates at the conference that was chaired by Dr. A. B. Xuma, then president of the African National Congress. The conference elected a National Anti-Pass Council and collected tens of thousands of signatures for Yusuf Dadoo to present to the “liberal,” Jan Hofmeyr, acting in the absence of Prime Minister Smuts. Hofmeyr, however, refused to meet with the delegation. The Anti-Pass Conference was one of many acts of Ruth First’s political deﬁance during her university years. Harold Wolpe recalled
connected her journalism and politics during her long tenure at the newspaper. The paper was launched on February 19, 1937, with a twelve-page edition. The masthead read, “Presenting the Truth to South Africa about Events Within and Without,” and most of the articles were initially international. Modeled after The Daily Worker in England, The Guardian was not ofﬁcially part of the CPSA, but it was clearly the unofﬁcial organ of the Party. Just before Ruth joined the newspaper, Moses Kotane and
depends on it and reinforces it. In turn, this new writing gave rise to a variety of theoretical and historical disputes, between Marxists and liberals and among Marxists themselves. These arguments were already present, in a less complete form, in Ruth’s own writings. In the ﬁrst instance they were used to counter the view that foreign investment, by promoting capitalist development, would contribute to the reform of apartheid. But, like the implications of the analysis of The South African
Connection, they raise deeper questions about the liberation struggle. Was it sufﬁcient to deﬁne it as a struggle for national liberation? If capitalism was the source of the problem, wasn’t socialism the obvious solution?322 Joe Slovo’s writing in the 1970s also had signiﬁcance, both strategically and as an inspiration for future MK cadres. Besides Central Committee meetings in Eastern Europe and more frequent visits to Africa, Joe made an interesting trip to Moscow in 1971. Presented in Mark