Remembering the brave life of Ruth Heloise First

2012-08-18 13:06

On Tuesday August 17 1982, Ruth Heloise First was killed by a letter bomb in her office at the Centre for African Studies at Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo, Mozambique.

Every activist knew that Pretoria securocrats had assassinated her. Fifteen years later, apartheid state agents Gerry Raven and Craig Williamson went to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to confess to her unspeakable slaying. Both were granted amnesty.

She was born into a family of radical socialists, Tilly and Julius First, who helped form the Communist Party of South Africa in the 1920s.

After graduating from the University of the Witwatersrand, she turned to journalism, becoming editor of left-wing newspaper The Guardian and later the New Age. Her investigative journalism laid bare the harsh conditions under which the majority of South Africans lived.

She spared nothing to expose racialised capitalism and to bring into focus the contradictions between labour and capital, and the exploitative role of the state.

She married Joe Slovo, a fellow communist, activist and an advocate at the Johannesburg Bar. Together they played a leading role in the ever-more militant protests of the 1950s. In 1953, both First and Slovo helped found the South African Congress of Democrats, a close ally of the ANC.

She served on the drafting committee of the Freedom Charter. As she was banned, she missed its adoption at the Congress of the People in Kliptown on June 25 1955. In December 1956, both First and her husband were arrested and charged with high treason along with 154 other leaders.

All were acquitted after a treason trial that lasted four years.

From 1960, following on the state of emergency, she was banned and later arrested several times, including being detained in solitary confinement for 90 days. During one of these times she contemplated suicide.

In March 1964, she left South Africa on an exit permit with her children to join her husband in exile in London.

In 1977, she became a professor and research director at the university in Mozambique, where she was killed.

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