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Ruth First and Joe Slovo in the War against Apartheid reviewed by Counterfire

Ruth First and Joe Slovo in the War Against Apartheid

"A truly remarkable work. Alan Wieder shows himself as a writer equal to their life story, their inspiring bravery in action and self-analysis."

—Nadine Gordimer, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature

Ruth First and Joe Slovo in the War against Apartheid



Two leading activists of the fight against Apartheid, Ruth First and Joe Slovo, for the first time have received a comprehensive biography

Alan Wieder, Ruth First and Joe Slovo in the War against Apartheid (Monthly Review Press 2013), 390pp.

As tributes to Nelson Mandela continue to fill the pages of newspapers it is right that we remember his legacy and his leadership of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. But it is also right that we take a sober view of South Africa’s complex history without forgetting the many other figures that stood beside Mandela in the war against apartheid.

Alan Wieder’s Ruth First and Joe Slovo in the War against Apartheid is a remarkable political biography of two activists who devoted their lives to the struggle for equality in South Africa. For their part in the fight against apartheid Joe Slovo and Ruth First were hunted and persecuted by the regime. Both were arrested, banned from speaking, exiled and targeted by the apartheid regime’s killers. Slovo, although more centrally involved in the armed fight against apartheid, survived to serve in Mandela’s government in 1994, but First was assassinated by the regime in 1982.

Ruth First and Joe Slovo are arguably among the most important of the anti-apartheid activists. They remained at the heart of the struggle throughout their lives, although their contributions to it were very different. First was a journalist, an academic, a teacher, and a public intellectual who contributed to the worldwide understanding of apartheid. Slovo was one of the principal leaders of the armed fight against the regime as a founding member, organiser and chief tactician of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK). He oversaw the training of MK fighters in Angola, and masterminded many of its successful operations, such as its attack on the SASOL oil refinery in 1980…

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