Ruth First

By: Jamie Siegart

Who Was Ruth First?

  • Ruth First was born in 1925, in Johannesburg, South Africa.
  • She was the daughter of socialist immigrants Tilly and Julius First.
  • Ruth was educated in Johannesburg, and she achieved her bachelor's degree in sociology at the University of the Witwatersrand in 1946. As a university student she decided to pursue the struggle for social justice for all South Africans.
  • Throughout the 1950s Ruth engaged in intense investigative journalism, to reveal the brutal reality of South African rule and also publicizing statements by the leadership of the African National Congress (ANC).
  • She was the editor of the literary magazine Fighting Talk and the Johannesburg editor of such newspapers as the Guardian and New Age
  • Ruth was not arrested in July 1963 when the government raided the underground headquarters of the Congress Alliance at a Rivonia farm house, However she was later arrested in August 1963 under the 90 day detention act, and was told by a security officer: "...You could have been charged in the Rivonia case. But we didn't want a woman in that case."
  • After her release in late 1963 Ruth, her three daughters, and her mother joined her in exile in England.
  • Being exiled only fueled Ruth's drive for change,
  • In 1970, with the publication of Power in Africa and 117 days, she won international recognition as a key African analyst

Why Was Ruth First Important?

  • She made a huge impact being a white female who greatly advocated for the rights of all South Africans
  • Although she was never a politician, she played an extremely influential role in the politics of her time.
  • She took great risks in order to inform everyone that she could about the truth of South Africa
  • She left an important legacy of political analysis of modern Africa
  • Her work in Mozambique set the international pace for integrating social science research into the creation of socialism
  • She became a symbol of the anti-Apartheid movement through her controversial, truthful works and the never ending risks she took in order to inform the world about her story, and South Africa as a whole.

Excerpts from First's Book, 117 Days

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"Ruth First." Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2002. Biography in Context. Web. 14 Nov. 2015.

"Ruth First." Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit: Gale, 1998. Biography in Context. Web. 14 Nov. 2015.