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Joe Slovo

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Title: Joe Slovo  
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Subject: South African Communist Party, Joe Slovo Park, Civil Cooperation Bureau, Mac Maharaj, Soweto uprising
Collection: 1926 Births, 1995 Deaths, African National Congress Politicians, Anti-Apartheid Activists, Cancer Deaths in South Africa, Jewish Atheists, Jewish Socialists, Jewish South African Politicians, Lithuanian Atheists, Lithuanian Emigrants to South Africa, Lithuanian Jews, Lithuanian Socialists, Marxist Writers, People Acquitted of Treason, People from Obeliai, Slovo Family, South African Activists, South African Atheists, South African Communist Party Politicians, South African Communists, South African Jews, South African Military Personnel of World War II, South African Revolutionaries, South African Socialists, University of the Witwatersrand Alumni, White Left (South Africa), White South African People
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Joe Slovo

Joe Slovo
Minister of Housing of South Africa
In office
April 1994 – January 1995
President Nelson Mandela
Preceded by New post
National Executive Committee member of the African National Congress
President Nelson Mandela
General Secretary of the South African Communist Party
In office
Succeeded by Chris Hani
Commander of Umkhonto we Sizwe
President Oliver Tambo
Succeeded by Chris Hani
Personal details
Born (1926-05-23)23 May 1926
Obeliai, Lithuania
Died 6 January 1995(1995-01-06) (aged 68)
Political party African National Congress
South African Communist Party

Joe Slovo (23 May 1926 – 6 January 1995, full name Yossel Mashel Slovo) was a South African politician, an opponent of the apartheid system. He was a long-time leader of the South African Communist Party (SACP), a leading member of the African National Congress (ANC), and a commander of the ANC's military wing Umkhonto we Sizwe.

A white South African citizen of Jewish Lithuanian family, Slovo was a delegate to the multiracial Congress of the People of June 1955 which drew up the Freedom Charter. He was imprisoned for six months in 1960, and emerged as a leader of Umkhonto we Sizwe the following year. He lived in exile from 1963 to 1990, conducting operations against the apartheid régime from the United Kingdom, Angola, Mozambique and Zambia. In 1990 he returned to South Africa, and took part in the negotiations that ended apartheid. After the elections of 1994, he became Minister for Housing in Nelson Mandela's government. He died of cancer in 1995.


  • Life 1
  • Acclaim 2
    • Civic and similar tributes 2.1
    • Cinema and music 2.2
  • References 3
  • External links 4


Slovo was born in Obeliai, Lithuania to a Jewish family which emigrated to the Union of South Africa when he was eight. His father worked as a truck driver in Johannesburg. Although his family were religious, he became an atheist who retained respect for "the positive aspects of Jewish culture".[1] Slovo left school in 1941 and found work as a dispatch clerk. He joined the National Union of Distributive Workers and, as a shop steward, was involved in organising a strike.

Slovo joined the

Party political offices
Preceded by
Moses Mabhida
General Secretary of the South African Communist Party
Succeeded by
Chris Hani
  • Joe Slovo – biographical sketch at the homepage of the ANC
  • "Has Socialism Failed?" – article by Joe Slovo, first published January 1990
  • "Old Marxist Returns, With Hope for South Africa" – article by Chris Hedges, The New York Times 17 October 1990
  • "Joe Slovo: Ode to a mensch" – eulogy by friend Linzi Manicom

External links

  1. ^ "OBITUARY: Joe Slovo". The Independent. 7 January 1995. 
  2. ^ Slovo, Joe, and Nelson Mandela (Contributor). Slovo: The Unfinished Autobiography of ANC Leader Joe Slovo. Ocean Press, 1997. ISBN 1-875284-95-8, ISBN 978-1-875284-95-5. P. 45.
  3. ^ Loveland, Ian. By Due Process of Law: Racial Discrimination and the Right to Vote in South Africa, 1855-1960. Hart Publishing, 1999. ISBN 1-84113-049-4, ISBN 978-1-84113-049-1. P. 252.
  4. ^ "Ruth First: Williamson given amnesty". Independent Online (South Africa). 1 Jun 2000. Retrieved 2009-04-08. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ Residences at Rhodes


Joe Slovo appears as a character in two films for which Shawn Slovo wrote the screenplay. In the award-winning 1988 movie A World Apart, he is depicted as "Gus Roth" (played by Jeroen Krabbé). He is played by Malcolm Purkey in the 2006 film Catch a Fire. A song in tribute to him was written by Scottish singer-songwriter David Heavenor and appeared in 1993 on the album Private The Night Visitors.

Cinema and music

Shack settlements in both Durban and Cape Town were named after Joe Slovo by their founders. Harrow Road in Johannesburg has now been renamed Joe Slovo Drive. A newly constructed Residence building at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa, has been named "Joe Slovo" in honour of the man.[6]

Civic and similar tributes


After the elections of 1994 he became Minister for housing in Nelson Mandela's government, until his death in 1995. His funeral was attended by the entire high command of the ANC, and by most of the highest officials in the country, including both Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki.

It was he who in 1992 proposed the breakthrough in the negotiations to end apartheid in South Africa with the "sunset clause" for a coalition government for the five years following a democratic election, including guarantees and concessions to all sides.

In 1989, he wrote "Has Socialism Failed?" which acknowledged the weaknesses of the socialist movement and the excesses of Stalinism, while at the same time rejecting attempts by the left to distance themselves from socialism. Slovo died in 1995 of cancer. In 2004 he was voted 47th in the Top 100 Great South Africans.

Being Jewish and a Communist, Slovo was a demonised figure on the far right of Afrikaner society.

Slovo was a leading theoretician in both the SACP and the ANC. In the 1970s he wrote the influential essay No Middle Road which stated that the apartheid government would be unable either to achieve stability or to co-opt significant sections of the small but growing black middle class - in other words the only choice was between the overthrow of apartheid or ever greater repression. At the time the SACP's orthodox pro-Soviet and stage-ist view of change in South Africa was dominant in the ANC-led liberation movement.

He returned to South Africa in 1990 to participate in the early "talks about talks" between the government and the ANC. Ailing, he stood down as SACP general secretary in 1991 and was succeeded by Chris Hani who was soon murdered. Slovo was given the titular position of chairperson of the SACP.

In 1961, Slovo and Abongz Mbede emerged as two of the leaders of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the military wing of the ANC, formed in alliance between the ANC and the SACP. In 1963 he went into exile and lived in Britain, Angola, Mozambique and Zambia. In his capacity as chief of staff of MK he codetermined its activities, like the 1983 Church Street bombing.[5] Slovo was elected general secretary of the SACP in 1984.

Both First and Slovo were listed as communists under the Kliptown near Johannesburg, that drew up the Freedom Charter. He was arrested and detained for two months during the Treason Trial of 1956. Charges against him were dropped in 1958. He was later arrested for six months during the State of Emergency declared after the Sharpeville massacre in 1960.

Between 1946 and 1950 he completed a law degree at Wits University and was a student activist. He was in the same class as Nelson Mandela and Harry Schwarz. In 1949 he married Ruth First, another prominent Jewish anti-apartheid activist and the daughter of SACP treasurer Julius First. They had three daughters, Shawn, Gillian and Robyn. Ruth First was assassinated in 1982 by order of Craig Williamson, a major in the Apartheid security police.[4]


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