Monday, May 27, 2013

Photos I

Over the next few weeks I will post some of the photographs from the book:

Ruth First with Walter Sisulu
(Courtesy of UWC-Robben Island Mayibuye Archives)

Joe Slovo with Mike Feldman and Barney Fehler
(Courtesy of Mike Feldman)

Joe Slovo and Yusuf Dadoo
(Courtesy of UWC-Robben Island Mayibuye Archives)

Pre-Publication Comments

“…which I find a truly remarkable work, revelatory not alone of these two people, their complexities or intellect and humanity conceived in the revolutionary struggle, but of the very nature of that aim evolving through present history. Alan Wieder shows himself as a writer equal to their life story, their inspiring bravery in action and self-analysis.”

-- Nadine Gordimer, Nobel Prize for Literature.  From the foreword.

The South African victory over apartheid quickly became the stuff of legend: the power of good triumphing over the forces of evil, the mighty Nelson Mandela offering a beacon of hope to oppressed peoples the world around. True, true, and of course much more complicated in reality. Alan Wieder’s great accomplishment here is to provide a clear window into that complex reality, and in the process to rescue the revolution from its myth-makers. Focusing on the lives of the colorful and contradictory revolutionaries Ruth First and Joe Slovo, Wieder provides detail and context, personality and character to one of the epic struggles of all time. This book is a gripping social history, a love song to the revolution, and a passionate and enlightening portrait of a partnership, a love-affair, and two extraordinary activists who cast their fates with the dreams of people everywhere for justice and freedom.

—Bill Ayers & Bernardine Dohrn

Demonized by apartheid, Joe and Ruth were revolutionary heroes for black South Africans. They were formidable opponents in word and deed. This absorbing account does them justice and illuminates the complexity and richness of their often stormy relationship and extraordinary times.

—Ronnie Kasrils, anti-apartheid leader and solidarity activist; former Minister of Intelligence in South Africa; author, The Unlikely Secret Agent

Wieder’s book enlarges and enriches our understanding of the lives of First and Slovo, their intense and turbulent relationship, their personalities and impact on others, and their various roles as lawyer, journalist, underground operative, researcher, teacher, author, political and military leader, negotiator and cabinet minister. The evocation of the Johannesburg left during the 1950s—Gillian Slovo called them her parents’ Camelot years—is vivid and well-observed. Ruth, Joe, and their circle combined commitment and camaraderie with conspiracy and concealment—and also with careless and complacency. The account of tensions between the ANC and SACP, and Joe’s efforts to reconcile African nationalism and socialism, is a nuanced and important account. The discussion of Ruth as writer-researcher and researcher-teacher makes use of earlier evaluations, but goes beyond them in an important assessment of her work as an academic engagé.

—Colin Bundy, former Principal of Green Templeton College, University of Oxford

It has been a real privilege for me to read Alan Wieder’s book. It brought me back in touch with two remarkable and complex people and activists. Ruth First and Joe Slovo emerge from this book as flesh and blood human beings facing monumentally difficult decisions. Each of them, and those dearest to them, paid a high price for their respective life choices. Yet Ruth and Joe’s integrity and full-throated commitment to a different kind of South Africa not only played an important role in doing away with the obscenity that was apartheid, they also represent a clear road not taken in post-apartheid South Africa. This book evokes a vital period which became a focus of myth-making rather than the kind of clear-eyed, honest history Ruth and Joe would each have ultimately have deemed essential.

—Dan O’Meara, author, Volkskapitalisme, and coauthor, The Struggle for South Africa

To the Movements he led, he was known by his initials. JS. His last name had become anthemic when the mostly black guerilla army belted out “Joe Slovo” in song as they marched on parade or executed sabotage missions in the secret war against apartheid. You can’t really appreciate South Africa’s transition to democracy without knowing why Nelson Mandela relied on his sense of strategy and how his bravery inspired a revolution committed to non-racialism. He was a communist known for red socks and a willingness to make compromises with capitalists that sealed the path to freedom. And just like Nelson’s relationship with Winnie made him stronger through his long years in confinement, Joe’s often tumultuous relationship with his wife and comrade Ruth First, a brilliant journalist and analyst, until her assassination, helped define the discourse of the ANC’s painful years in exile. Now Alan Wieder has plunged into their past of domestic and political struggle to share their story with the scope, context, and detail that it deserves. And we all will appreciate his commitment and style in critically respecting their contributions and bringing this dynamic duo alive as the complex, loving and caring people they were.

—Danny Schechter, Founder and Director of “South Africa Now”, Director of six films on Nelson Mandela

November KBOO Radio Reading on Ruth & Joe - Let Us Now Remember Past Activists

            In recent months there have been events in both South Africa and the United Kingdom commemorating 30 years since the South African apartheid regime assassinated Ruth First.  During the long fight against apartheid in South Africa there were several remarkable couples who devoted their lives to the struggle -- Winnie and Nelson Mandela, Albertina and Walter Sissulu, Hilda and Rusty Bernstein, and of course the intrepid Ruth First and Joe Slovo.  Ruth and Joe began their activism the decade before the apartheid regime came into power.  They became members of the Communist Party in the 1940s as they fought racism, class disparity, and oppression in South Africa.  Beginning in 1947 and ending just before she was imprisoned in 1963, Ruth was the editor of the Johannesburg office of The Guardian, a radical, opposition newspaper that exposed the atrocities of the South African state, and featured the voices of black opposition leaders.  Forced into exile in 1964, she continued to speak back to power in South Africa through her activism, writing, and teaching.  In 1982, she paid the ultimate price for her commitment to a democratic South Africa when she was assassinated by the apartheid regime.  A year earlier, South African commandos were elated because they believed that they had killed Joe Slovo whom they referred to as “Enemy Number One.”  The commandos had mistakenly shot the wrong person, a Portuguese engineer.  There were later attempts on Joe’s life.  At the government’s infamous interrogation and torture prison, Daisy Farm, there was a basement cell referred to as the "Slovo Suite."
The South African government demonized both Ruth First and Joe Slovo throughout the struggle years.  With Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, and Govan Mbeki imprisoned for almost three decades beginning in 1963, Joe Slovo was, along with Oliver Tambo and Chris Hani, one of the most important leaders in the struggle against apartheid.  He was the main strategist of the armed struggle, and later a key player in the negotiations with the apartheid regime that led to the country’s first democratic government in 1994. 
Ruth and Joe were complex individuals: their partnership, early years and beyond, was tested by their individuality, irreverence, ideology, infidelity, and intensity. Ruth First could be thoughtful, contentious, generous, academic, intellectual, revolutionary, and more.  Joe Slovo was tough, humorous, soft, harsh, congenial, thoughtful, political, musical, and OF COURSE revolutionary.  Ruth was sometimes compared to Rosa Luxemburg.  Her commitment to the struggle against apartheid was given as testimony after her assassination – it still is today.  Retired Constitutional Court justice, Albie Sachs, said, “I once described her as a product of Lenin and the London School of Economics.”  Headlines from a newspaper interview with Ruth during her London years read, “I am a Revolutionary.”  Finally, her American friend, Danny Schechter, the Media Dissector, said, “She was not playing the revolution, she was making the revolution, or trying to.”
Ruth First and Joe Slovo were both leaders amongst leaders.  They had different styles.  They had different roles in the struggle.  Most importantly, their complex and vital places in the fight for a democratic South Africa need to be portrayed for the people that knew them and more importantly for those that have come after them – both in South Africa and throughout the world.
Their legacies are especially important in South Africa today because both politicians and other leaders, some who were their struggle comrades, are enmeshed in repression and corruption.  Unfortunately, comrade Pallo Jordan’s eulogy of Joe where he said he had no doubt that Joe’s life and work would continue to inspire radicals, and publisher Ronald Segal’s promise after Ruth died that the revolutionary movement would find new purpose because of her death, remain unfulfilled.
But in 2012 huge contradictions remain corresponding to Ruth and Joe’s revolutionary legacies and the current reality in South Africa.  They taught us that capitalism and imperialism have inflicted immense misery on humanity and that we have to voice and act upon our passion for economic justice, our hatred of inequality and our impatience with reformism.  Ruth and Joe’s values and actions need to be kept alive in South Africa and throughout the world.  The spirit of each of their positions in the struggle against apartheid is sorely necessary in the current struggles for social justice.  Recently, University of Montreal political scientist Dan O’Meara commented on Ruth and Joe’s lifelong fight against the rich and powerful.  He spoke to the essence of why their life stories are so important to portray at the present time.
Ruth and Joe died trying to change the world; they died not in the arid despair of the mind, but in hope at the possibility of change, knowing that only 'we' could wring such change from the grasping bloody hands of 'them'.
            Ruth First and Joe Slovo’s actions always confronted the vile ruthlessness of power that initiated, fostered, sanctioned, and protected class disparity and racism.  Ruth’s work as a political activist, journalist, writer, academic, and Director of Research at the Center of African Studies in Mozambique, challenged commonplaces and injustices, class disparity and racism, in South Africa and throughout the Continent.  Joe, first as a radical lawyer, then as the Chief of Staff of the struggle underground, and finally as the leader of the South African Communist Party, combined strategy with action to fight unwaveringly against the apartheid regime.
Both people spent their entire lives daringly fighting for a non-racial, democratic South Africa with the goal of socialism and equality for all people.  Their values and actions help remind generations across the board, old and young, of the possibilities when courageous and brave individuals join together to fight oppression, or to paraphrase the preamble to the South African Constitution:
Believe that the World belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity!

Initial Post

I am creating this blog to trace the life of my forthcoming book (next month), Ruth First & Joe Slovo in the War Against Apartheid.  The book is being published by Monthly Review Books in the United States and Jacana in South Africa.  Excerpts, photographs, reviews, and book events will be included on this site.

Some links for the book -- South African links should be up later this week or next week.