Who was Ruth First?

Ruth First was born in 1925 and enrolled at Jeppe High School for Girls in 1939, in 10th Grade. Her parents were both committed Communists and First’s talents as a leader, writer and thinker were already apparent during her school years. A library prefect, she excelled at writing, winning the English prize and obtaining a distinction in English in her final year of school.


After graduating from Jeppe High School for Girls, First completed a BA degree at the University of the Witwatersrand, she involved herself in student politics and joined the South African Communist Party. She worked briefly as a researcher in the Johannesburg municipality but described working in an apartheid environment as “boring and disgusting”. She soon left this safe job to devote herself fully to the struggle for justice. She worked with trade unions and distinguished herself as an investigative journalist, revealing the brutal reality of apartheid rule. She joined the Guardian newspaper and went on to become the editor. The publication was later banned.


During the fifties and sixties the situation in South Africa worsened and Ruth First and husband Joe Slovo were charged, as well as Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and 150 others for treason. They were all subsequently acquitted.

First was imprisoned for 117 days and then, along with her family joined her husband in exile in England in 1963 where she continued to work as a political activist, writer and eventually as an academic based at Durham University. She travelled widely and continued to write important works on African history and politics.

Ruth First died on the 17th August 1982 in Maputo, where she was working at the University. She was killed by a letter bomb sent to her by the South African police.

Justice Albie Sachs speaks at the Annual Ruth First Review about Ruth First, their friendship and the difference that she made in society.

Justice Albie Sachs

Justice Albie Sachs is the Patron of the Ruth First Jeppe High School for Girls Memorial Trust.


"Ruth First was a wonderful friend, a brilliant thinker and writer and remarkably courageous in pursuit of freedom. I will do everything I can 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 sacrifice 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."


Albert "Albie" Louis Sachs is an activist and a former judge on the Constitutional Court of South Africa. He was appointed to the court by Nelson Mandela in 1994 and retired in October 2009.