Joe Slovo

Sasha Neefe - IB Global Studies Block 3; Wehmeyer


Life and Accomplishments

Joe Slovo, a White South African lawyer and politician, was born in Lithuania in 1926 and immigrated to South Africa when he was eight years old. He graduated from Witwatersrand University with a degree in law, and he played a major role throughout the entirety of the Anti-Apartheid Movement.

Slovo was married to Ruth First, who died in 1986, and then to Helena Dolny. He had three children - Shawn, Gillian, and Robyn, with First. He wrote an unfinished autobiography that was edited by his second wife, called Slovo - the Unfinished Autobiography. This was published in 1995, just months after his death from bone marrow cancer on January 6th of the same year.

An extremely involved man, Slovo partook in several Anti-Apartheid groups and had important roles in nearly all of them. His political career sparked at a young age when he became a member of the Communist Party in 1942. Between 1946-1950, he was a member of the South African Army, and after his service became a founding member of the Congress of Democrats in 1953. He ran into some trouble in the 1950s and 60s when he was detained and arrested several times after the outlawing of the Communist Party. In addition, after working on the draft of the Freedom Charter and the African National Congress's Non-Racist Manifesto of 1955, he was one of the accused in the Treason Trial from 1956-1961. Chargers were dropped. Slovo also helped organize the ANC's guerrilla wing (MK) and served as its chief of staff in 1961. During his 27 years of exile between 1963 and 1990, Slovo still helped battle Apartheid by serving on the South African Communist Party as its chair (1984-1987), general secretary (1987-1991), and later its national chair (1991-his death). After returning from exile, he helped to negotiate the transition from white superiority to multiracial democracy in South Africa in 1994. He continued to be the first minister of housing in the post-Apartheid government under Nelson Mandela until his death.

In addition to his political accomplishments, Slovo wrote an autobiography as mentioned before, as well as helped write South Africa: The New Politics of Revolution (1976) and wrote The South African Working Class and the National Democratic Revolution (1986). He was also the editor of the political journal Umsebenzi and contributed to and edited the African Communist paper.

Significance to Anti-Apartheid Movement

Even though he was white and thus not as affected by the racist laws, and although he suffered extreme and painful loses during the movement, Joe Slovo continued to act against the government during the Apartheid era of South Africa. The fact that he was the first white appointed to the National Executive Council of the ANC and worked very closely with Nelson Mandela, a leading and well known figure in the movement, is significant in itself. The 1950 Suppression of Communism Act restricted 600 people, including Slovo and his first wife, Ruth First. He was banned and restricted from all gatherings in South Africa in 1954, and yet he still helped to create the Freedom Charter from afar and underground. He was not even able to watch the proceedings of the charter being presented and had to watch using binoculars from a rooftop. Because he was detained for several months and exiled from the country, Slovo was away from his family when Ruth was detained for four months then left the country with her three daughers. Instead of trying to find his family and return to them, Slovo continued to work closely with the ANC on the creation of MK and traveled to its headquarters in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. In 1982, after several sabotage events that Slovo took part in against the Apartheid government, Slovo's wife was assassinated in her office. Slovo was also part of the connection between the Communist Party and the ANC, and this connection is what made the ANC's more violent struggle that finally abolished apartheid possible. The struggle against Apartheid that Slovo was so adamantly active in cost him his wife, home, and professional life, and even though he was not directly affected by the Apartheid laws because of his race, he dedicated his life to the liberation movement, and succeeded. This not only shows the rarity of good morals and character (from todays perspective of racism being immoral) in a white member of South Africa, but it shows utter determination. Slovo endured exile, hatred, danger, and losses for the anti-apartheid movement, and this shows what a significant and exceptional member of the movement he really was.



Reference Section

Works Cited

  • Saks, David. "Joe Slovo." Encyclopaedia Judaica. Ed. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. Biography in Context. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.
  • Leverich, Jean M. "Joe Slovo." Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Biography in Context. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.
  • "Joe Slovo." Newsmakers. Detroit: Gale, 1989. Biography in Context. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.
  • "THE ARMED STRUGGLE SPREADS." The Armed Struggle Spreads. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.