Joe Slovo

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Nelson Mandela and Joe Slovo

Joe Slovo (23 May 1926 – 6 January 1995), born Yossel Mashel Slovo, was a Jewish South African Communist. He was a long-time leader and theorist in 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 (MK).

He was born in Obeliai, Lithuania to a Jewish family who emigrated to South Africa when he was eight.

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 organizing a strike. He joined the SACP in 1942.

Inspired by the Red Army's battles against the Germans on the Eastern Front of World War II, Slovo volunteered to fight in the war joining the Springbok Legion.

Between 1946 and 1950 he completed a law degree at Wits University and was a student activist. In 1949 he married Ruth First, the daughter of SACP treasurer Julius First. They had three daughters, Shawn, Gillian and Robyn.

Both First and Slovo were listed as communists under the Suppression of Communism Act and could not be quoted or attend public gatherings in South Africa. He became active in the African National Congress and was a delegate to the June 1955 the "Congress of the People" organised by the ANC and Indian, Coloured and white organisations at 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.

In 1961, Slovo and Abongz Mbede emerged as one of the leaders of Umkhonto we Sizwe. In 1963 he went into exile and lived in Britain, Angola, Mozambique and Zambia. Slovo was elected general secretary of the SACP in 1984.

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 later assassinated. Slovo was given the titular position of chairperson of the SACP. He served as Minister for Housing in the first government of Nelson Mandela.

Slovo was a leading theoretician in both the party and the ANC. In 1989, he wrote Has Socialism Failed? which acknowledged the weaknesses of socialism and excesses of Stalinism. Slovo died in 1995 of cancer.

See also

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