As I promised yesterday, I got to Busboys and Poets to hear the Portland, Oregon based Alan Weider (not really sure what his background is beyond that) speak on his new book, Ruth First and Joe Slovo in the War Against Apartheid. First and Slovo were prominent Jewish white South African communists (First was born in Johannesburg, Slovo immigrated from Lithuania as a youth). Weider’s remarks wandered widely, so I won’t recount the event in too much detail, but he did make a bombshell allegation that may be worth reading on for.
Weider began his remarks by noting that Slovo and First had very different personalities, he originally wanted to title the book ‘Partners with Separate Paths’ but this was rejected by his publishers. He noted that he conducted over 130 interviews with more than 70 people in the course of writing the book. The couple had three children who currently live in the UK that he spoke to, although they did not contribute to the book in any way.
Joe Slovo was a head of the Communist Party of South Africa, commander of the armed wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe, and was briefly a minister in the post-Apartheid government until his death from cancer.
Ruth First was a journalist and academic, who was killed by a letter bomb in her offices at Eduardo Mondlane University, where she was heading its African Studies Department.
Weider noted that Slovo had quite the sense of humor and added that one could read some of his Russian and Jewish jokes in the book. It wasn’t articulated, but I got the sense that Weider wrote the book, at least in part, to highlight the extent to which the ANC has strayed from the vision that it had at one time for majority ruled South Africa (think Marikana Massacre). He frequently referenced the strained relationship of Slovo and South Africa’s second president, Thabo Mbeki, who Weider believes had secret negotiations with the World Bank before the ANC assumed power.
As for the interesting anecdote I mentioned above – Weider obliquely noted that the CIA was responsible for the capture of Nelson Mandela when he was in hiding in 1962.