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Ruth First (May 4, 1925 – August 17, 1982) was a South African anti-apartheid activist and scholar born in Johannesburg, South Africa. She was killed by a parcel bomb addressed specifically to her in Mozambique, where she worked in exile from South Africa.



First's parents, Julius and Matilda First, emigrated to South Africa from Latvia as Jewish immigrants in 1906 and became founder members of the South African Communist Party (SACP). Ruth First also joined the SACP, which was allied with the African National Congress in its struggle to overthrow the South African government.

She was involved in the founding of the Federation of Progressive Students while at the University of the Witwatersrand where she studied for her Bachelor's degree in Social studies. Nelson Mandela, future President of South Africa and Eduardo Mondlane the first leader of the Mozambique freedom movement FRELIMO were among her fellow students. In 1949 she married Joe Slovo, another prominent Jewish anti-apartheid activist.

In 1963 during the government's crackdown she was interned for 117 days, and upon being freed she and her husband went into exile in London, where she was active in the Anti-Apartheid Movement. From 1964 she worked full-time as a freelance writer, before becoming a Research Fellow at the University of Manchester in 1972. Between 1973-1978 she lectured in development studies at the University of Durham, although she spent periods of secondment at universities in Dar es Salaam and Lourenco Marques (Maputo). In November 1978 she took up a post as Director of the research training programme at the Universidade Eduardo Mondlane in Maputo, Mozambique. Here she continued to work for the downfall of the apartheid regime. She was assassinated by order of Craig Williamson, a major in the South African Police, on August 17, 1982, when she opened a letter bomb that had been sent to her university.[1]

The 1988 movie A World Apart, from a screenplay by her daughter Shawn Slovo and directed by Chris Menges, is Ruth First's film biography. Her other daughter, Gillian Slovo, is also a writer.

See also

  • Marion Sparg - white female ANC guerilla sentenced to 25 years in prison for treason
  • Today there is a women's residence in Rhodes University in Grahamstown dedicated to her life and achievements.


  1. ^ "Ruth First: Williamson given amnesty". Independent Online (South Africa). 1 Jun 2000. Retrieved 2009-04-08.  

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