Friday, June 14, 2013

Abstract: Speaking to the Present in South Africa: The Ideas, Writings, and Actions of Ruth First and Joe Slovo

(On July 2, 2013 I will speak at Lilliesleaf as part of the 50th anniversary of the Rivonia Raid. It should be noted that yesterday, June 13, was the 49th anniversary of the conviction of Nelson Mandela and comrades in the Rivonia Trial.  BELOW IS THE ABSTRACT FOR MY TALK)

This lecture presents Ruth First and Joe Slovo’s ideas, writings, and actions within the spirit of the Rivonia Museum’s commemoration of the Rivonia Raid and Trial ”to celebrate and draw lessons from the lives of those who shaped our country’s history and contributed to the freedom and democracy we enjoy today.”  Not only are Ruth and Joe people “who shaped South African history and contributed to the freedom and democracy in the country today.”  They are integrally connected to the house where we meet today – and thus both the Rivonia Raid and the Rivonia Trial.

After a brief introduction of Ruth and Joe and a listing of recent articles that might be referred to as “What would Ruth or Joe do?” the discussion will present and analyze each person’s work as mentors, writers, and activists.  Everyone knows that both Ruth First and Joe Slovo spoke back to apartheid power, fought against the apartheid regime, and challenged capitalism and imperialism throughout the world. However, they both also spoke back to power in their own political world as both people challenged both the SACP and ANC at various times.  Both examples are important to consider today.

More specifically: This lecture will portray both Ruth and Joe as mentors.  Ruth, beginning at The Guardian and then later as an academic in Durham and Maputo; and Joe, first in South Africa and then exile only to continue the practice during negotiations and in his role as Minister of Housing.  We will also study their writings connected to their actions in the struggle with more detailed analysis of Ruth’s writing on Bethal, her book The Barrel of A Gun. Joe’s “No Middle Ground” and Has Socialism Failed” will also receive a thorough presentation. Ruth First and Joe Slovo’s writings connect directly to their actions in the struggle – thus they speak to the present time, Marikana, corruption, free speech, and more. Ruth was clear in her critiques of issues during her time that connect to the present.  However, we must remember that it was Joe that on more than one occasion asserted, “National liberation implies more than formal participation in the electoral processes and more than the replacement of black faces for white ones in the Mercedes Benz.”

Ruth’s work as a political activist, journalist, writer, academic, and Director of Research at the Center of African Studies, challenged commonplaces and injustices, class disparity and racism, in South Africa and throughout the Continent.  Joe, first as a radical lawyer and initial member of the reemergence of the Communist Party, Chief of Staff of Umkhonto we Sizwe, and leader of the South African Communist Party, combined strategy with action to fight unwaveringly against the apartheid regime.  Then, with the same zeal that he employed as the chief strategist of the armed struggle, Joe was first a significant and central player in the negotiations with the government, and then as the Minister of Housing, all part of his breadth and depth in helping to fight for a democratic, non-racial South Africa.

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