Celebration of life and writing of assassinated anti-apartheid legend Ruth First

The extraordinary life of a famed anti-apartheid activist who made a corner of Camden her home for more than a decade will be celebrated 30 years after her assassination.

Friends, family and human rights campaigners marked the life of Ruth First at the launch of a website featuring digitised archives of her writings in Bloomsbury on Thursday (June 7).

A noted journalist, author and social commentator, Ms First – a South African national born in 1925 – spent the majority of her life exposing the horrors of the government of the time.

A constant thorn in the side of the South African government, Ms First was exiled to the UK following her detention in solitary confinement under South Africa’s notorious ‘90-day’ laws in 1964 for her attacks on apartheid.

With her husband, Joe Slovo – leader of the South African Communist Party – already in the UK, the family settled into a home in Lyme Street, Camden Town, where they lived from 1966 to 1978.


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Author Gillian Slovo, Ruth’s daughter and a West Hampstead resident said: “North London was home to a large ex-pat community and I remember when we came over it was a choice between Primrose Hill and Camden.

‘‘We settled into the house and my parents got very involved in the fight against the apartheid government.

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“We had a busy, international house and I remember my parents working not just to support people from South Africa but those from all over Africa.

“Often, people would come by the house for a talk or my parents would put them up for the night.”

With the growth of a new political left in the UK, Ms First became more and more involved in national politics.

She became a teacher in Durham before eventually moving to Mozambique.

It was there that she was killed in 1982 when opening a parcel bomb sent by agents of the South African government.

“When they did that it had the opposite effect to what they expected,” said her daughter. “It galvanised people and showed how violent the apartheid state was and how far it would go to hold on to power.”

The website launch took place at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London.

For more information about the website and Ms First’s writings, visit www.ruthfirstpapers.org.uk

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