Slovo, First biography – Bedfellows of a different feather
28 FEB 2014
Alan Wieder’s biography on Joe Slovo and Ruth First focuses on the couple’s relationship, their different personalities and opposing views.
Back in 1989, with the Berlin Wall about to fall, I enjoyed a long and leisurely dinner with Joe Slovo at his Lusaka home. The youngest of his three daughters, Robyn, popped in, but mostly it was just Joe, his friend Pallo Jordan and me, and it ended with a fine bottle of red wine.
“A gift,” Joe said after absorbing our compliments, pausing for effect, “from Erich Honecker.”
Jordan, an independent-minded leftist and no admirer of the ailing East German leader whose fortunes were taking a tumble, offered a raised eyebrow. I offered a nervous smile. Slovo burst into laughter, clearly relishing the irony of it all.
In Cape Town seven years earlier I had attended a memorial for Ruth First, who had just been assassinated by a parcel bomb. One of her comrades from the 1950s addressed us on First’s remarkable struggle contributions over the decades, and rounded it off by telling us that “they were the glamour couple of the left”.
She then turned her attention to the scruffier women activists of the student left, pointedly informing them that Ruth took “great care” about personal grooming.
Reading Alan Wieder’s biography of this rather extraordinary couple, these moments came to mind. With their very different personalities, regular rows and often opposing views, they emerge as two of the most compelling characters within the ANC’s historical cast…