Review of African Political Economy, 2014
Vol. 41, No. 139, 160–165
Ruth First and Joe Slovo in the war against apartheid, by Alan Wieder, New York, Monthly Review Press, 2013, 390pp., £14.79, IBSN: 9781583673560
Alan Wieder has done a wonderful service in researching and writing such a detailed, well constructed narrative, setting the intertwined personal histories in the context of the long and difficult struggle against apartheid. Based on extensive reading of relevant literature, much enriched by interviews, as befits an oral historian, this book provides many new insights to those of us who only knew a part of the lives of Ruth First and Joe Slovo.
From the early years of both activists, the book covers in great detail their political activities and personal lives as they each became involved (through different routes initially) in the struggle against ever strengthening institutionalised racism, a process that culminated in apartheid in South Africa. It then describes how deeply they became involved in the antiapartheid struggle as state repression grew ever more intense, and as the African National Congress (ANC) took up armed struggle, culminating in the famous Rivonia trial and in exile for most of the ANC leadership that had not been arrested, including First and Slovo. It chronicles their lives in England and back in Africa. This includes a chapter on the assassination of Ruth First at the Centre of African Studies (CEA), Eduardo Mondlane University, Maputo and the expulsion of Joe Slovo and other ANC members from Mozambique, following the Nkomati Accord. Interestingly, it shows how quickly Joe Slovo became reconciled to the Frente de Libertac¸a˜o de Moc¸ambique (FRELIMO) afterwards, understanding the factors that motivated that decision, and appreciating that it did not end the South African destabilisation of Mozambique (or indeed of Angola). The final three chapters describe the changes of the late 1980s, the negotiations between the ANC and the National Party and the homecoming, together with Joe’s brief term of office as Minister of Housing and his final battle with cancer…