Extraordinary Life: Ruth First
Anti-apartheid activist, communist, journalist, prisoner, academic, mother and victim of assassination: Ruth First indeed led an extraordinary life.
Justice Albie Sachs and author Lauren Beukes discuss Ruth First's life in this podcast.
Ruth First's parents immigrated to South Africa from Latvia as Jewish immigrants in 1906 and became founder members of the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA), the forerunner of the South African Communist Party (SACP). Ruth First was born in 1925 and followed in her parents' political footsteps, also joining the Communist Party.
She received a Bachelor's degree from Wits in 1946. While at university, she was involved in the founding of the Federation of Progressive Students. First later became the editor-in-chief of the radical newspaper 'The Guardian', which was subsequently banned by the state. In 1949 she married Joe Slovo, a Jewish South African anti-apartheid activist and Communist.
Ruth First was one of the defendants in the Treason Trial of 1956-1961, alongside 156 other leading anti-apartheid activists. In 1963, during a government crackdown, she was imprisoned and held in isolation without charge for 117 days under the Ninety-Day Detention Law. She was the first white woman to be detained under this law.
In 1964, First went into exile in London and moved to Mozambique in 1978 where she took up a post as director of the research training programme at the Universidade Eduardo Mondlane. There she continued to work for the downfall of the apartheid regime. She was assassinated by order of Craig Williamson, a major in the South African Police, on August 17 1982, when she opened a letter bomb that had been sent to the university.
Albie Sachs, a former Constitutional Court justice, and Ruth First's lives have interesting parallel trajectories: both were members of left-wing Jewish families, they were both detained for long periods, both went into exile and both were bombed in Mozambique. The explosion on April 7 1988 left Albie gravely wounded.
Lauren Beukes is an award-winning, best-selling novelist who also writes comics, screenplays, TV shows and occasionally journalism. In addition to her celebrated novels – such as the Arthur C Clarke award-winning 'Zoo City', she also penned 'Maverick: Extraordinary Women From South Africa’s Past', where she explores the compelling lives of some of South Africa's most famous – and notorious – women.
Extraordinary Lives is a biographical podcast series that celebrates the contribution that remarkable people havemade to South Africa and the world. A well-known guest discusses the life of an extraordinary person who has inspired them. Extraordinary Lives is inspired by the BBC's "Great Lives" and is presented by Jonathan Ancer. It is produced by Triple World Score Media.