The name Joe Slovo is not one that commands immense familiarity. But in that name stood a stoic figure who was determined to fight apartheid at all costs in order to secure majority rule.
In that name stood a hero who made sacrifices for South Africa so that the black man particularly could have a voice in a society that was dominated by brutal, racial white capitalism.
A man who was immersed in Marxist-Leninist ideologies, Joe Slovo was born Yossel Mashel Slovo in 1926. He was born in Lithuania and moved to South Africa when his family emigrated there. He was 8 at the time. His father became a van driver in Johannesburg. Slovo left school in 1941 to become a dispatch clerk for a chemist while working towards attaining a Law degree at the University of Witwatersrand. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree and Bachelor of Laws degree.
He was one of the foremost revolutionary leaders of the apartheid struggle. Some of his military inspiration came from his experience as a volunteer soldier for the South African forces during World War II. From the 1940s, Slovo became an active member of the South African Communist Party, since at that time it was the only relevant nonracial political organization. His law practice made him friends with Nelson Mandela, and by then the revolutionary wheels were spinning as evidenced by the high-profile political trials of that epoch.
He was active in providing legal counsel for black dissidents and helped draft the 1955 ANC's Freedom Charter. Under the Suppression of Communism Act, Slovo was banned from attending political gatherings in 1954 but he continued to do so covertly. In 1956, Slovo, together with other Congress of Democrats politicians, were charged with treason bu the charges against him were later dropped in 1958.
The military wing of the ANC, Umkhonto weSizwe, came into being through the valiant efforts of the revolutionaries at the time chief among them Joe Slovo. He played a very instrumental role in its formation. He regularly attended meetings of its high command at Lilliesleaf Farm, Rivonia. He was Chief of Staff of Umkhonto weSizwe. He served on the revolutionary council of the ANC from 1969 until its dissolution. When other revolutionaries were arrested in 1963, he was out of the country on an "external mission". Just a month later, his wife, Ruth First, was detained for almost 4 months.
For 27 years, Joe Slovo campaigned towards soliciting funds for the operations of the ANC from bases in London, Mozambique, and Zambia. In 1982, his wife Ruth First was killed by a parcel bomb in Mozambique. The apartheid government wanted to do away with "communists."
In 1985, Slovo became the first white member of the ANC’s National Executive. He was also General Secretary of the SACP from 1986 to 1991 and later its Chairperson. In 1991, Slovo served on the National Peace Committee, Slovo also served on the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA). After the 1994 elections, Joe was elected to the cabinet where he became Minister of Housing until his death on 6 January 1995.
Slovo only returned to Johannesburg because of Mandela's release. He remains a hero who can never be forgotten from Africa's history books.
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