Ruth First held multiple roles during the struggles of her time as a communist militant, journalist, and leading intellectual in South Africa. She was born into a political family in Johannesburg in 1925 and, as a student in the 1940s, founded an important organisation, the Federation of Progressive Students with other anti-apartheid activists. Her cohort of fellow students and comrades included a broad swathe of activists, such as Nelson Mandela and Eduardo Mondlane, the first leader of the Liberation Front of Mozambique (FRELIMO).
While in exile in Mozambique and the United Kingdom, First carried out pioneering research on the lives of migrant labourers in South African gold mines, critiquing the apartheid state’s imperialist ambitions and the impact of Western imperial nations on Africa. Tragically, on 17 August 1982, she was assassinated by a spy for the apartheid state who sent a deadly letter bomb to her office in Maputo.
Ruth First: Selected Writings, the sixth joint book published by the International Union of Left Publishers, brings together five stirring essays on a range of topics including the landmark 1956 Women’s March, the workings of the apartheid state, and the history of armed struggle against this state, introduced by an essay on First’s life and legacy, written by Vashna Jagarnath, a labour activist who works in the office of the general secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA).
About the author
Ruth First, born in 1925, held multiple roles during the struggles of her time as a communist militant, journalist, researcher and leading intellectual in South Africa. Until her assassination in 1982, she was a committed anti-apartheid activist and was one of the many defendants of the Treason Trial and imprisoned without charge in solitary confinement for 117 days in 1963.
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