Shaun Gillham email@example.com
PROLIFIC American author, academic and apartheid researcher Alan Wieder launched his latest work, the first extended biography on freedom fighters Ruth First and Joe Slovo, at the latest edition of The Herald NMMU Community Dialogue, held at the Red Location Museum last night.
The launch of the book – entitled Ruth First and Joe Slovo in The War Against Apartheid – came as Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa and people around the world celebrated Mandela Day.
Wieder, an oral historian who lives in Portland, Oregon, has worked on oral histories of political resistance in apartheid South Africa since 1999. He spent more than 20 years on the faculty of the University of South Carolina and has also served on the faculties of the University of the Western Cape and Stellenbosch University in South Africa.
Wieder addressed a full house at the museum, while sharing a dialogue with the audience and Fieldmore Mapeto, who is the former regional head of the ANC's armed wing Mkhonto weSizwe, and museum acting deputy director Mpumezo Ralo. He told the audience that he began researching Ruth First, the wife of Joe Slovo, during 1991 and after discovering that there were no comprehensive books about her and her husband.
Wieder describes his book as "the first extended biography of Ruth First and Joe Slovo and a remarkable account of one couple and the revolutionary moment in which they lived".
Outlining his research methodology for the publication, Wieder said he drew heavily on primary and secondary sources, but also on an extensive oral history he had collected over many years.
"I interviewed 83 people, who included the likes of Ronnie Kasrils. I spoke to Ronnie for a collective 16 hours for material on the book," Wieder said.
He was able to tell the couple's story after speaking to people who knew them as children, as teenagers or for their whole lives, he said.
Wieder spoke at length on various important events in the lives of the late South African Communist Party stalwart and his wife, who was notoriously killed by a letter bomb dispatched by agents of the apartheid government in 1982.
Following his address, Wieder opened the floor to questions, many of which revolved around Slovo's views on socialism in the South African and broader context and the personal and ideological relationship between Slovo and First.