When Kevin invited me to address you, I was reluctant. I’m a working screenwriter, I’m not a public speaker, I hate to leave the house, I told him. But Kevin is nothing if not insistent, he’s a very persuasive human being. Truthfully, I think the real reason I am reluctant is that the personal trauma of her loss, so many years ago, is too near the surface. Though my mother is a constant presence in my being, I get churned up by the fact that she was taken out in the prime of her life. When the TRC granted amnesty to her murderers, that was a dark day in our lives, and that bitterness lingers.
Ruth made brave and bold choices. She chose to be a journalist because she felt that was the best and only way to bring the horror, cruelty and barbarism of apartheid to the attention of the general public. One of her investigations in 1961 published in the New Age newspaper she edited, was on slave-like prison labour used on the farms in Bethal. The story sent shockwaves throughout the world.
She was generous, compassionate, glamourous and the hardest-working person I have ever known. The sound of her Hermes typewriter at work was the soundtrack to our lives growing up. She bequeathed to us three sisters a love of reading and writing and through example, taught us the importance of engaging with the world, of speaking out about injustice, of standing up for what you believe. Ruth, and our father Joe Slovo were no martyrs to the cause so to speak but were living the life, engaged and absorbed by the fight against apartheid.
The last years of her life were spent at the University of Maputo in the newly independent Mozambique where she was part of a team building a post-colonial society. When we got the call about her brutal and cowardly murder, it was a call I had expected all my life – but about my father, Joe Slovo. He was Chief of Staff of the military wind of the ANC in exile, Ruth a journalist, a writer, and academic. But of course, it makes sense that she was a target. By fearlessly exposing the iniquities of the apartheid state throughout her life she gave truth to the old adage that the pen is mightier than the sword.
In exile in London and watching from afar the student uprisings in 1976, she addressed and anti-apartheid ANC rally in central London. She spoke about how she had always regarded the youth as being the most important part component of the liberation movement. She went on to say that in recent times she has altered her view. From now on, she would focus on the role of women in the struggle for liberation. This did not make her popular with the male ANC leadership of the time, as you can imagine.
What would she have said today about the scourge of gender-based violence? She would be very vocal; of that we can be sure! Speculating, I think she would have said that what is important is that gender-based violence is now recognized as unacceptable and abhorrent, and that steps are being taken to address this problem. So how do we adjust our society to achieve full equality for women? Recognising the diversity of culture in the country, she would have made the point that culture is not static. It has to adapt and change with time.
What has changed since her death is that the doors are finally opening for all to walk through and reach for their dreams as they are entitled to do. You are a fortunate group of young women who can walk through that door with your head held high knowing that whatever choices you make are made by you and not somebody else. You have the Constitution and Laws to enable you to achieve your ambitions.