Joe Slovo

By Natalie Laurendeau

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Life and Accomplishments

Joe Slovo was born in May of 1926 in Lithuania and died in 1995 from Leukemia. At the age of nine, Slovo moved with his parents, Woolf and Ann, to Johannesburg of South Africa to get away from the threat of anti-semitism. As a child, he attended several different schools and later on in his life he studied at the University of Witwatersrand where he earned a bachelors degree in law. While Slovo was studying, he worked as a clerk for a chemist and then later joined the National Union of Distributive Workers. During World War II, he served with South Africa's side in Egypt and Italy.During Slovo's college years, he met his wife, Ruth First, who was the daughter of the Communist Party of South Africa's treasurer, Julius First. In 1942 Slovo joined the Communist party of South Africa and was a member on its committee from 1953. Slovo worked as being an advocate and defense lawyer and in 1953, he became a founding member of the Congress of Democrats. In 1954, he and his wife were banned from attending public meetings and couldn't be quoted in the press due to the Suppression of Communism Act, however they both sill worked secretly against apartheid.

Significance to Apartheid

Joe Slovo played a big part in anti-apartheid movements and even when he was banned from attending public meeting he still continued to work towards his political beliefs. Slovo helped draft the Freedom Charter but due to his restriction order, he was unable to attend The Congress of The People in Kliptown. Following this event, he along with many other activists, were accused in the Treason Trial of 1956 because the government believed it was treason for them to create the Freedom Charter. Slovo was later released in 1958 but then again arrested for a four month period due to the State of Emergency that followed the Sharpeville Massacre. Slovo was also one of the earliest members of the Afrcican National Congres' armed wing also known as Mk. Slovo left the country to avoid being charged on many occasions and continued working for the ANC and SACP, opening an operational centre for the ANC. Slovo was the chief of staff of mk until 1987, where he played a strong role in leading the members, and also became the first white member of the ANC's national executive. Slovo showed his continuous leadership when he took the position of being the general secretary of the SACP, when the original secretary had passed away. Slovo continued to work for these different organizations until his death and when he had died, Nelson Mandela gave him a public eulogy, recognizing all of his achievements and efforts in the anti-apartheid struggle.

An Excerpt from The Freedom Charter

The Freedom Charter

As adopted at the Congress of the People, Kliptown, on 26 June 1955

We, the People of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know:

    that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of all the people;

    that our people have been robbed of their birthright to land, liberty and peace by a form of government founded on injustice and inequality;

    that our country will never be prosperous or free until all our people live in brotherhood, enjoying equal rights and opportunities;

    that only a democratic state, based on the will of all the people, can secure to all their birthright without distinction of colour, race, sex or belief;

    And therefore, we, the people of South Africa, black and white together equals, countrymen and brothers adopt this Freedom Charter;

    And we pledge ourselves to strive together, sparing neither strength nor courage, until the democratic changes here set out have been won.


"Biography: Joe Slovo." Education. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

"The Freedom Charter." The Freedom Charter. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.