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Ruth First

Though her investigative journalism, Ruth First exposed the horrors of apartheid. The daughter of founding members of the Communist Party of South Africa, First became editor of the leftist radical newspaper The Guardian soon after her graduation from the University of the Witwatersrand. Despite the increasingly oppressive regime that outlawed the Communist Party and censored the press, First openly criticized the mistreatment of black South Africans. In 1953 she helped found the South African Congress of Democrats, part of the larger coalition of the Congress Alliance which tried to shift South Africa to majority rule and racial equality. This led to her arrest in 1956 on charges of high treason, along with her husband and 154 other activists. In 1960 she was “banned,” unable to publish or even be quoted by other journalists. She was arrested again in 1963 and held in solitary confinement without charges. In 1964 she and her family immigrated to London, where she returned to writing about apartheid and injustice, and her 1965 book 117 Days, describing her imprisonment, was made into a wildly popular film. In 1977 she helped the newly liberated country of Mozambique create a socialist government, which South Africa saw as a threat. First was assassinated in 1982 by a letter bomb sent by the South African Police.

Ruth First Mural
Full image
Mural of journalist and apartheid activist Ruth First by Ben Slow in Johannesburg, South Africa. Photo by Derek Smith, via Wikimedia Commons
Date of Birth
May 4, 1925
Place of Birth
Date of Death
August 17, 1982

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Ruth First." (Viewed on November 13, 2018) <>.


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