Thursday, January 2, 2014

Review -- African Libraries Newsletter

Thirty-one years ago, Ruth First, a prominent member of the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the African National Congress (ANC), was murdered in her Mozambiquan office by a parcel bomb sent by the South African apartheid goverment.

Well-known among anti-apartheid activists and academics, this biography of First and her husband, SACP leader Joe Slovo, will hopefully expand the numbers of people familiar with her work. Ruth First and Joe Slovo in the War Against Apartheid is a biography of these two fighters against apartheid. Given the nature of their life’s work, it is also a history of the ANC, the SACP, and the struggle against apartheid. Thus, it includes a love story, focusing on the tensions of attempting to build a family and maintain a relationship while being dedicated to a political cause and the political struggles, both internal and external, within the organizations to which they were committed.

In telling this story Wieder utilizes a large number of interviews with friends and associates of First and Slovo, their writings, newspapers accounts, and academic articles and monographs. One need not be a specialist in South African history to appreciate the details of the relationship between the ANC and the SACP, and both organization’s relationship with the USSR, which supplied much of the military training for the ANC’s armed wing, the MK.

As an historical narrative, the book also does justice to explaining the ANC’s turn to armed struggle and the problems, organizational and ideological, that had to be overcome to successfully prosecute that struggle. In the wake of the recent death of Nelson Mandela, this book also serves to bring attention to many of the other giants in the fight to overthrow the apartheid system - not just Slovo and First, but also their comrades - including Chris Hani, Joe Modise, Ronnie Kasrils and Moses Kotane.

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