An Immigrant in South African history, Joe Slovo was born in a small Lithuanian village, Obelai, on 23 May 1926, to parents, a “Jews” family, Woolf and Ann. When Slovo was nine years old the family moved to Johannesburg in South Africa, primarily to escape the increasing threat of anti-Semitism which gripped the Baltic States. He attended various schools until 1940, including the Jewish Government School, when he achieved Standard 6 (equivalent to American grade 8). Separate schools.
Joe Slovo, the anti-Apartheid activist, was one of the founders of Umkhonto we Sizwe(MK), the armed wing of the ANC, and was general secretary of the South African Communist Party during the 1980s.
Slovo first encountered socialism in South Africa through his school-leaving job as a clerk for a pharmaceutical wholesaler. He joined the National Union of Distributive Workers and had soon worked his way up to the position of shop steward, where he was responsible for organizing at least one mass action. He joined the Communist Party of South Africa in 1942 and served on its central committee from 1953 (the same year its name was changed to the South African Communist Party, SACP). Avidly watching the news of the Allied front (especially the way in which Britain was working with Russia) against Hitler, Slovo volunteered for active duty and served with South African forces in Egypt and Italy.
In 1946 Slovo enrolled at the University of Witwatersrand to study law, graduating in 1950 with a Bachelor of Law, LLB. During his time as a student, Slovo became more active in politics and met his first wife, Ruth First, the daughter of the Communist Party of South Africa’s treasurer, Julius First. Joe and Ruth were married in 1949. After college Slovo worked towards becoming an advocate and defense lawyer.
In 1950 both Slovo and Ruth First were banned under the Suppression of Communism Act – they were ‘banned’ from attending public meetings and could not be quoted in the press. They both, however, continued to work for the Communist Party and various anti-Apartheid groups.
As a founder member of the Congress of Democrats (formed in 1953) Slovo went on to serve on the national consultative committee of Congress Alliance and helped draft the Freedom Charter. As a result of Slovo, along with 155 others, was arrested and charged with high treason.
Slovo was released with a number of others only two months after the start of the Treason Trial. The charges against him were officially dropped in 1958. He was arrested and detained for six months during the State of Emergency which followed the 1960 Sharpeville massacre, and later represented Nelson Mandela on charges of incitement. The following year Slovo was one of the founders of Umkhonto weSizwe, MK (Spear of the Nation) the armed wing of the ANC.
In 1963, just before the Rivonia arrests, on instructions from the SAPC and ANC, Slovo fled South Africa. He spent twenty-seven years in exile in London, Maputo (Mozambique), Lusaka (Zambia), and various camps in Angola. In 1966 Slovo attended the London School of Economics and gained his Master of Law, LLM.
In 1969 Slovo was appointed to the ANC’s revolutionary council (a position he held until 1983 when it was dissolved). He helped draft strategy documents and was considered the ANC’s main theoretician. In 1977 Slovo moved to Maputo, Mozambique, where he created a new ANC headquarters and from where he masterminded a large number of MK operations in South Africa. Whilst there Slovo recruited a young couple, Helena Dolny, an agricultural economist, and her husband Ed Wethli, who had been working in Mozambique since 1976. They were encouraged to travel into South Africa to undertake ‘mappings’ or reconnaissance trips.
In 1982 Ruth First was killed by a parcel bomb. Slovo was accused in the press of complicity in his wife death – an allegation which was eventually proved unfounded and Slovo was awarded damages. In 1984 Slovo married Helena Dolny – her marriage to Ed Wethli had ended. (Helena was in the same building when Ruth First was killed by a parcel bomb). That same year Slovo was asked by the Mozambican government to leave the country, in accordance with its signing of the Nkomati Accord with South Africa. In Lusaka, Zambia, in 1985 Joe Slovo became a first white member of the ANC national executive council, he was appointed general-secretary of South African Communist Party in 1986, and chief-of-staff of the MK in 1987.
Following the remarkable announcement by President FW de Klerk, in February 1990, of the unbanning of the ANC and SACP, Joe Slovo returned to South Africa. He was a key negotiator between various anti-Apartheid groups and the ruling National Party and was personally responsible for a ‘sunset clause’ which led to the power-sharing Government of National Unity, GNU.
Following a bout of ill health in 1991, he stepped down as general-secretary of SACP, only elected as SACP chairperson in December 1991 (Chris Hani replaced him as general-secretary). In South Africa’s first multi-racial elections in April 1994, Joe Slovo gained a seat through the ANC. He was awarded the post of Minister for Housing in the GNU, a position he served under until his death form Leukaemia on 6 January 1995. At his funeral nine days later, President Nelson Mandela gave a public eulogy praising Joe Slovo for all he had achieved in the struggle for democracy in South Africa.
Ruth First and Joe Slovo had three daughters: Shawn, Gillian, and Robyn. Shawn’s written account of her childhood, A World Apart, has been produced as a film.
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06 January 2016
The human rights and Palestine solidarity organization BDS South Africa joins fellow South Africans in commemorating and celebrating anti-apartheid icon, Comrade Joe Slovo. Today is the 22nd anniversary of his death.
Joe Slovo (23 May 1926 – 6 January 1995; born Yossel Mashel Slovo) was a long-time leader of the South African Communist Party (SACP), a leading member of the African National Congress (ANC), a commander of the ANC’s anti-apartheid military wing Umkhonto we Sizwe and later served as Minister of Housing in Nelson Mandela’s government.
A South African of Jewish-Lithuanian family, Slovo lived in exile from 1963 to 1990, conducting campaigns (including military operations) against the apartheid régime from the United Kingdom, Angola, Mozambique, and Zambia. Comrade Joe was at once a South African struggle stalwart and at the same time an internationalist who was also a consistent critic of Israeli Apartheid.
After fighting against Nazi Germany, Joe Slovo visited Palestine where he critiqued the so-called socialist but flawed Israeli “kibbutz” system. He also condemned the pro-Israeli idea that “the land of Palestine must be claimed and fought for by every Jew” adding that this pro-Israeli colonization of Palestine “meant the uprooting and scattering of millions whose people had occupied this land for over five thousand years”.
When it came to the issue of Israel, he stood out and stood up from within his community to make it clear that what Israel is doing to the indigenous Palestinian people should not be done in the name of Judaism – that not all Jews (like himself) support Israel. Comrade Joe Slovo said:
“IRONICALLY ENOUGH, THE HORRORS OF THE HOLOCAUST BECAME THE RATIONALIZATION FOR THE PREPARATION BY [ISRAELI] ZIONISTS OF ACTS OF GENOCIDE AGAINST THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLE OF PALESTINE. THOSE OF US WHO, IN THE YEARS THAT WERE TO FOLLOW, RAISED OUR VOICES PUBLICLY AGAINST THE VIOLENT APARTHEID OF THE ISRAELI STATE WERE VILIFIED BY THE ZIONIST [PRO-ISRAELI] PRESS.”
And on Israel’s shameful relationship with Apartheid South Africa during the 1980s, Comrade Joe Slovo said:
“IT IS IRONIC, TOO, THAT THE JEW-HATERS IN APARTHEID SOUTH AFRICA – THOSE WHO WORKED AND PRAYED FOR A HITLER VICTORY – HAVE BEEN LINKED IN CLOSE EMBRACE WITH THE RULERS OF ISRAEL IN A NEW AXIS BASED ON RACISM.”
As we celebrate comrade Joe Slovo we also recognize the growing number of Jews across the world, including those in Israel, who are supporting the Palestinian struggle against Israeli Apartheid and specifically backing the non-violent boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel campaign.
As we salute comrade Joe Slovo we also salute progressive pro-Palestinian Jewish organizations including South African Jews for a Free Palestine (SA JFP), Jewish Voices for a Just Peace (JVJP), Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP), Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JFJP) and the various other similar structures from around the globe.
The struggle and boycott against South Africa was not directed against White people but against the Apartheid regime, likewise the struggle against Israeli Apartheid is not against Jews but against the Israel’s violations of international law and human rights abuses.
Long live the undying spirit of comrade Joe Slovo, long live!
ISSUED BY KWARA KEKANA ON BEHALF OF BDS SOUTH AFRICA
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Slovo grew up as a son of Woolf and Ann Slovo in the small town Obelai in Lithuania . He learned Yiddish and ” studied ” the Talmud . When Slovo was nine, his family moved to Johannesburg , South Africa, where he attended various schools, including the Jewish Government School. He got a job with a pharmaceutical wholesaler. In 1942 he joined the South African Communist Party (Communist Party of South Africa) and 1953 the Central Committee of the same when it changed its name (South African Communist Party, SACP). During the Second World War , Slovo volunteered for the South African Armed Forces in Egypt and Italy . Slovo began law school in 1946 at the University of Witwatersrand and married in 1949 Ruth First, daughter of the Treasurer of the Communist Party Julius First. After graduation, he became a defense lawyer.
Even while working as an employee of the pharmaceutical wholesaler, he organized at least one mass protest. Under the Communist Suppression Act, he was forbidden to perform in public rallies and be quoted in the press. As a founding member of the Congress of Democrats in 1953, he was charged with 155 others for treason, but released after two months. Later he was detained for six months for his involvement in the uprisings that led to the Sharpeville massacre. A year later, he formed the armed arm of the African National Congress Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) with co-thinkers .
Yossel „Joe“ Mashel Slovo ( 23. Mai 1926 in Obelai, Litauen; 6. Januar 1995 in Johannesburg) war ein jüdischer Kommunist, Anti-Apartheid-Agitator und Generalsekretär im Afrikanischen Nationalkongreß in Südafrika.
Slovo wuchs als Sohn von Woolf und Ann Slovo in der Kleinstadt Obelai in Litauen auf. Er lernte Jiddisch und „studierte“ den Talmud.
Als Slovo neun Jahre alt war, zog seine Familie nach Johannesburg in Südafrika, wo er verschiedene Schulen, unter anderem die Jewish Government School, besuchte. Er bekam eine Stelle bei einem pharmazeutischen Großhändler. 1942 trat er der Südafrikanischen Kommunistischen Partei (Communist Party of South Africa) und 1953 dem Zentralkomitee derselben bei, als diese ihren Namen änderte (South African Communist Party, SACP).
Im Zweiten Weltkrieg meldete sich Slovo bei den Südafrikanischen Streitkräften in Ägypten und Italien freiwillig. 1946 begann Slovo mit dem Jurastudium an der Universität Witwatersrand und heiratete 1949 Ruth First, Tochter des Schatzmeisters der kommunistischen Partei Julius First. Nach dem Studium wurde er Strafverteidiger.
Schon während seiner Tätigkeit als Angestellter des Pharma-Großhändlers organisierte er mindestens einen Massenprotest. Unter dem Gesetz zur Unterdrückung des Kommunismus wurde es ihm untersagt, auf öffentlichen Kundgebungen aufzutreten und in der Presse zitiert zu werden. Als Gründungsmitglied des Kongresses der Demokraten 1953 wurde er mit 155 weiteren wegen Hochverrats angeklagt, jedoch schon nach zwei Monaten freigelassen. Später wurde er für sechs Monate für seine Beteiligung an den Aufständen, die zum „Sharpeville Massaker“ führten, inhaftiert. Ein Jahr darauf gründete er mit Gesinnungsgenossen den bewaffneten Arm des Afrikanischen National kongresses Umkhonto we Sizwe (Speer der Nation).