Heloise Ruth Slovo (First) (1925 - 1982)

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Birthplace: Johannesburg, South Africa
Death: Died in Maputo, Mozambique
Managed by: Divon Mordechai Lan
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About Heloise Ruth Slovo (First)

Ruth First Jeppe High School for Girls Memorial Trust

25 August 2010

A small group of staff and learners from Jeppe High School for Girls recently attended the Ruth First Memorial Lecture at Wits University on 17 August 2010. This was the 9th memorial lecture of its kind, but it was the first time Jeppe High School for Girls had been represented.

Pelonomi Moiloa, Head Girl, announced the launching of the Ruth First Memorial Trust for Jeppe High School for Girls at the lecture. The Trust commemorates Ruth First, our most famous alumnus, who in Pelonomi’s words was “cut from the same splendid cloth as Steve Biko and Nelson Mandela.” Ruth First’s history” she went on to say,” does not only lie in her great contribution as a compassionate intellectual to black and white freedom and equality but also in the black and white stripes she wore on her back as a Jeppe girl.” The Ruth First Memorial Trust aims to provide scholarships and support that will help turn young women from ordinary circumstances into principled leaders who will make a difference in South African society. It is hoped that the Ruth First scholarship will enable promising learners whose parents may have considered Jeppe Girls to be out of their financial reach the opportunity of attending this school.


Ruth First attended Jeppe from 1939 – 1941 where her talents as a leader, writer and thinker were already evident. A library prefect, she won the English prize as well as obtaining a distinction in English, which was a very rare occurrence in those days. Born into a middle class family, Ruth, spurned a comfortable and privileged life to become a remarkable leader in the anti-apartheid struggle. 

She was an exceptional writer and political thinker who used her skills and intellect to highlight the injustices in South African society. She enrolled at Wits to do a BA degree and became involved in student politics, joining the South African Communist Party. Her first job was as a researcher in the Johannesburg municipality, which she found exceptionally boring. She left and began working with trade unions, where she distinguished herself as an investigative journalist, exposing the vicious truth of apartheid rule. She joined the Guardian newspaper and later became editor. The South African government sought to crush all opposition to apartheid during the Fifties and Sixties. In 1956 the Guardian was banned and Ruth was one of 150 people charged with high treason, alongside Nelson Mandela and her husband Joe Slovo. She spent 117 days in solitary confinement before she was acquitted. She died in 1982 when a letter bomb, sent to her by apartheid agents, exploded in her office at the university in Maputo.

Justice Albie Sachs has agreed to be a patron of the fund, and has this to say:

“Ruth First was a wonderful friend, a brilliant thinker and writer and remarkably courageous in pursuit of freedom. I will do everything I can do to honour her memory. I am delighted that Jeppe High School for Girls has taken this initiative which I support wholeheartedly. I commend it to all who value Ruth’s profound contribution to the establishment of democracy in South Africa and respect the sacrifices she made. It will be wonderful for many young women of diverse backgrounds to be given the opportunity to obtain top quality education at Ruth’s old school and thus follow in her footsteps.”

The first 4 recipients of the Ruth First Memorial Trust Fund will be introduced at the official launch function on 27 October 2010. The Trust Fund has the full support of Ruth’s three daughters, Shawn, Gillian and Robyn Slovo, and Gillian will be attending the launch. Ruth’s daughters had this to say: “We are delighted that Jeppe High School should remember her in this way. Ruth was the first in her family to matriculate and she believed firmly in the power of education, especially for girls.  We can think of no better way of honouring her memory than to encourage   future  generations to develop the  skills and understanding  that   can be used for the betterment of the country to which she dedicated her life and  so loved.”  

For further information on the Ruth First Jeppe High School for Girls Memorial Trust, please contact Mr Kevin Tait on 011 616 5090 or ruthfirstjeppetrust@jeppegirls.co.za.

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Heloise Ruth Slovo's Timeline

Johannesburg, South Africa
Age 24
Age 57
Maputo, Mozambique