Obituary of Joe Slovo; died 6 January 1995
Ron Press <email@example.com>, London
for the ANC, Cape Town
Joe Slovo Loses Battle with Cancer
By Mallory Saleson, 9 January 1995.
International News E-Wire
Service, Friday 6 January 1995
JOHANNESBURG - Tributes are pouring in from around South Africa
following the death early Friday of housing minister Joe Slovo, a
prominent African National Congress and South African communist-party
leader. Joe Slovo died at the age of 68, after a long battle with
Early in life Joe Slovo joined the struggle to end apartheid
and bring democracy to his country. He was a strategist with an
important role in negotiations that brought about South Africa's
current government of national unity, and South Africa's first
democratic elections last year.
President Nelson Mandela said in a statement he regrets the
death of a great south-African patriot, who dedicated his life to
justice and freedom. Mr. Slovo died in his sleep early Friday
after a long struggle with cancer. For months he appeared weaker
in public, but carried on his tasks as housing minister. Comrades
and critics say he was well on the road to creating a new
national housing scheme to benefit the country's impoverished
Born in Lithuania in 1926, Mr. Slovo came to South Africa at
an early age with his parents. He became a political lawyer,
joined the South African communist party and later the African
national congress, and was an early member of its military wing.
He said last May he had to keep pinching himself to believe
democracy and freedom had finally come to South Africa.
National Chairperson, SACP
Member, Central Committee and Politburo, SACP
Member, National Executive Committee, ANC
Member, National Working Committee, ANC
Minister of Housing, Government of National Unity
Despite the propaganda about "the KGB general," Joe Slovo was not
fluent in Russian or Lithuanian. He spoke one language: English.
Born in the village of Obelai, Lithuania on May 23, 1926 to Ann and
Woolf Slovo, he had one younger sister, Reina. In the climate of
anti-Semitism then rampant in the Baltic states, his family
emigrated to South Africa when Slovo was eight. His father worked as
a truck driver in Johannesburg.
Slovo attended the Jewish Government School from 1935 to 1937; after
that he went to Observatory Junior (1937-39), Yeoville Boys
(1939-40) and finally Observatory Junior High School (1940). Here he
was influenced by militant Irish teacher, John O'Meara.
His favourite school subject was history; his favourite activities
debating and athletics.
Slovo left school after Standard 6 in 1941. He went to work as a
dispatch clerk at SA Druggists, joining the National Union of
Distributive Workers. As a shopsteward, he was involved in
organising a strike. He joined the SACP in 1942.
Influenced by Red Army heroism, he left his surroundings in
Doornfontein boarding house and volunteered to fight for the allies
in World War II. He later became very active in the Springbok Legion.
Between 1946 and 1950 he completed a BA LLB at Wits. He was
politically active as a student, involving himself in all the '50s
In 1949 he married Ruth, the daughter of SACP treasurer Julius
First. She was killed by a parcel bomb, believed to have been sent
by the apartheid regime to her office in Maputo, Mozambique in 1982.
Both First and Slovo were listed as communists under the Suppression
of Communism Act of 1954 and could not be quoted or attend public
gatherings in South Africa.
Slovo and First had three daughters -- Shawn, Gillian and Robyn. Shawn
Slovo's account of her childhood has been turned into the successful
Hollywood movie "A World Apart".
Slovo was a founder member of the Congress of Democrats. He represented
COD on the national consultative committee of the Congress Alliance
which 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 Sharpeville
In 1961, Slovo emerged as one of the leaders of Umkhonto we Sizwe.
In 1963 he went into exile on instructions from the SACP and ANC. He
spent his exile years in the UK, Angola, Mozambique and Zambia.
In 1966 he did his LLM at the London School of Economics.
Slovo was based in Mozambique until 1984, when he was elected general
secretary of the SACP. At this point he was also MK's chief of staff and
a member of the NEC's working committee.
Slovo returned to South Africa in 1990 to participate in the early
"talks about talks" between the government and the ANC. Following a
short period of ill health, he said he would not stand again as SACP
general secretary. At the party's congress in South Africa in December
1991 Slovo was elected SACP chairperson; the late Chris Hani was elected
Slovo was a leading theoretician in both the party and the ANC. He
wrote numerous articles for the African Communist, of which he was
former editor, as well as countless pamphlets. He also contributed
to several books such as "No Middle Road".
Always portrayed as an arch-Stalinist by the former South African
government, Slovo surprised his critics with his "Has Socialism
Failed?" pamphlet in 1989, acknowledging the weaknesses of socialism
and excesses of Stalinism. In 1992 an adapted form of his "Sunset
Clause" document, allowing for a form of power sharing with the
government, was adopted by the NWC.
Slovo loved classical music, particularly the work of Mahler, and his
favourite book was Gogol's "Dead Souls". He was married to
agricultural economist Helena Dolny and lived in Johannesburg.
Prepared by: ANC Information Services
Dept Information & Publicity
PO Box 16469, Vlaeberg 8018
Cape Town, South Africa.
Tel: (+27 21) 262740
Fax: (+27 21) 262774