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Happy 94th Birthday Nelson Mandela (plus rare recording)

This is a guest post by Tafadzwa Choto.

Nelson Mandela turns 94 years today and l find myself joining millions of people all over the world wishing him a birthday, paying tribute to his life which he dedicated towards improving lives of many people.  Mandela has spent 67 years of his life dedicated to struggle against apartheid in South Africa – with 27 years in prison.  In the process of the struggle he sacrificed his personal happiness that included his family and the privileged life he could have led as a black lawyer for South Africa’s liberation struggle.  He stood fast without wavering, with vigor against apartheid and the need for equality even when he faced death during the Rivonia trial.  He is an international hero who continues to be an inspiration throughout the world, to all who are oppressed and deprived, to all who are opposed to oppression and deprivation.  He will forever remain a symbol and a vital force in the fight for human rights and racial equality.

However, one cannot talk of South African and Mandela struggle without mentioning contributions of women such as Albertina Sisulu, Ruth First, Charlotte Maxela and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela just to mention a few.  Winnie was not only a wife but also as a comrade in arms.  Besides the burden of raising their children alone she kept the fire of struggle burning and Mandela’s name alive during his time in prison.  She constantly suffered political harassment, torture, banishment to Branford but did not give up the struggle.   Ruth First was also the same, convinced of socialism as the way forward for the liberation of South Africa and the region. She gave up her privileged life to fight for her cause.  Unfortunately, unlike Albertina and Winnie, Ruth didn’t get to see the liberated South Africa and was killed in Mozambique.  Ruth might be dead today but what she stood for, her dedication, courage and confidence just like that of Winnie during the struggle continues to inspire many women on the need to fight for democracy and against poverty.

In my birthday wish to Mandela l want to end up by quoting him at the start of Rivonia trial in 1963, his words are still relevant today since violent forces are still being used against those fighting for democracy, humanity and against poverty.  “At the beginning of June 1961, after long and anxious assessment of the South African situation, I and some colleagues came to the conclusion that as violence in this country was inevitable; it would be wrong and unrealistic for African leaders to continue preaching peace and non-violence at a time when the government met our peaceful demands with force.”  It is wrong for the world to continue preaching peace and non-violence when people not only in Zimbabwe but also in Sudan, Syria, Egypt etc are demanding to lead normal lives, where they have enough to eat, send children to school, health, shelter but their demands are being met with violent force.  Another world is possible, the lesson from Mandela’s life and from Ruth’s deep and penetrating analysis of the failures of national liberation movements.

To mark the occasion, the Ruth First Papers project is proud to release a previously unpublished recording of a public meeting held on the 17th of August 1992, the tenth anniversary of Ruth First’s assassination. The meeting included Nelson Mandela, Joe Slovo, Robyn and Shawn Slovo among others. Mandela’s eulogy for Ruth begins at 4.25.

You can find the recording here [download 681mb].

Tafadzwa Choto is one of Zimbabwe’s leading human rights activists. For more than fifteen years she has played a leading role in the National Constitutional Assembly, in the Zimbabwe Social Forum and currently as Director of the Zimbabwe Labour Centre – that provides advice and support to workers in trade unions. Tafadzwa has been at the forefront of gender activism, as the women’s chairperson at the NCA. As a consequence of her advocacy of human rights and democracy change in Zimbabwe she has been beaten and arrested by the regime. Last year she was held with five others and charged with treason for attending a meeting on the events in Egypt. The trial last almost a year and though the Zimbabwe Six were found guilty of ‘insisting public violence’, national and international pressure, including from the Commonwealth, meant that the prison sentence was suspended.  Please visit the Facebook group ‘Calling for the release of Zimbabwean Activists’ for more information.


Alpheus Manghezi interview

You can now listen to the BBC World Service interview with Alpheus Manghezi on our press page.

Symposium roundup

Our symposium on Thursday was a great day, with contributions from our speakers that ranged from the history of the anti-apartheid movement to the current state of South African politics and education, all through the prism of Ruth’s life and writing. We’d like to thank everyone who attended, including the speakers, audience, those who made contributions from the floor. We’re also very grateful to our sponsors – RoAPE, the HSRC and the SA High Commission.

The entire day was recorded, and we’ll work as quickly as possible to make it available online. We also took the opportunity of having everyone in London to record some brief interviews, also coming soon.

But as Alpheus put it – ‘and what then?’

Well, we’re now turning our full attention to filling the site with as much material as we’re able to, so watch this space for updates on our progress. Equally, if you’ve got any comments or questions about the site, contact us at

The Camden New Journal


Read all about our conference in the Camden New Journal‘s interview with Gillian Slovo.


Updated programme

A new programme for the conference is out now, with more speakers confirmed – you can find it here.

Catching up on news…

Here’s a summary of the project news so far, with links to uploaded info:

17 May 2012 Today the first pages of the site to be translated into Portuguese will go live. More to follow – expect teething troubles, but we’ll soon have it working smoothly.

16 May A new set of photos is up, this time from the Slovo family album. More to follow!

14 May The first set of photographs is now up here. Alternatively, see the Flickr page for another view. Coming soon: embedded slideshows and embedded audio.

10 May Happening as we speak: a Ruth First memorial concert in Maputo, in aid of HIV/AIDS causes:

10 May The first of Don Pinnock’s interview tapes are online. Interviews with some of Ruth’s family – Joe Slovo and Tilly and Ronald First – can be found here. There are transcripts for most of these files, as well as another 16 interviews to come.

4 May The first item from the Centro de Estudos Africanos collection is now available here. O Mineiro Moçambicano: Um estudo sobre a exportaçāo de māo de obra is a report into Mozambican mine workers, conducted by up to 40 researchers and activists based at the CEA, and directed by Ruth First. This brings the total amount of available material in the project so far up to 1500 pages!

20 April Libya: The Elusive Revolution can now be found here. These ebooks are presented in chapters for easy downloading.

19 April The Barrel of a Gun: Political Power in Africa and the Coup d’État is now online here.

16 April Some Libya material is now up, including correspondence between Ruth and Gaddafi’s office. Browse in SAS-Space to access them for now. You can also see a full programme for the conference in July here.

30 March Check out the Early Campaigns page for the first PDFs in the collection: Ruth’s scrapbooks of journalism from the late 1940s and early 1950s. The digitisation process is still being worked through – we need to establish a balance between high quality scans and smaller file sizes for easy access – but the proof of concept works. More advanced linking to the files and search functions will come soon.

27 March Coming very soon – ebooks of The Barrel of a Gun and Libya: The Elusive Revolution, and the first cluster on Ruth’s early journalism. Watch this space!

8 March Happy International Women’s Day! Ruth First was a key voice in promoting a women’s movement within the South African anti-Apartheid movement, and a speaker at the IWD events in the 1970s. Two books of hers will be made available through the Ruth First Papers site shortly – Libya: The Elusive Revolution and The Barrel of a Gun, with supporting material to follow.

2 March Welcome to the Ruth First Papers website – still in the development stage, but the first item is added to the collection: A photograph of Ruth with Winnie Mandela. You can find it here, or on the ‘About’ page (for now, at least).


Welcome the the Ruth First Papers project blog. This blog is for news, updates, and introspection on what’s going on with the digitisation project, and politics in general. The project team as it stands is:

Leo Zeilig, Project Manager

Matt Mahon, Research Assistant

Stephanie Wigram, Vanessa Rockel and Virgilio Chicamisse, Project Officers

and Rob Kenyon, Publicity and Communications.