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Ruth First Biography

(1925–82)

african political slovo journalist

South African journalist, political activist, and theorist, born in Johannesburg, educated at the University of Witwatersrand. She began her writing career as an investigative journalist exposing the grim working conditions of non-white and migrant labourers. She was killed by a letter bomb sent to the Centre for African Studies in Maputo, Mozambique, where she had been research director since 1978. Although she and her husband, Joe Slovo, a leading member of the Revolutionary Council of the African National Congress, were acquitted in the mass treason trials of 1956, during 1963 she was held in solitary confinement; this experience resulted in a classic work of political prison literature, 117 Days: An Account of Confinement and Interrogation under the South African Ninety-Day Detention Law (1965). She later settled in London and was appointed Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Durham. The Barrel of a Gun: Political Power in Africa and the Coup d'Etat (1970), a work of acute political analysis, goes considerably beyond the narrow concerns of an academic specialist, and is one of the most revealing books about Africa in the twentieth century. With Ann Scott she wrote Olive Schreiner (1980), a biography. She is the mother of Gillian Slovo.

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