117 Days (Ruth First) January 2, 2017
117 Days (Ruth First)
An account of confinement and interrogation under the South African ninety-day detention law
Introduction by husband, Joe Slovo,
1998 (first published in 1965), Bloomsbury,
ISBN: 0-7475-0233-1, Pages: 144
In December 2015 I visited Robben Island with a friend, Selaelo Letsoalo and halfway through the tour we stopped at the little Island tuck-shop where people could buy snacks. I of course headed for the bookshelf and found this precious gem of a memoir. The book is only 144 pages and can be read in a day or two or three J. I was immediately drawn to the book because when I go to my parents’ home in Mabopane, I take an off ramp named ‘Ruth First’ and I had always wondered who she was since I never studied about her in history in school. I mean you have to be pretty awesome to have anything written or named after you right? So I figured she must be something, and quite something she was I soon discovered.
First, a petite summary about Ruth First
Ruth First was a journalist, an anti-apartheid activist, and a member of the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African Communist Party (SACP). She was one of the 156 defendants of the famous Treason Trial together with Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu and others. Ruth First was the first non-black woman to be detained under the 90-day law of the apartheid times. This law empowered authorities to detain a person for a period of 90 days without a warrant, a charge, and a trial. Only she served more than 90 days as many others did; 117 days to be exact in isolation. She was married to Joe Slovo, another ANC stalwart and was killed by a letter bomb in Mozambique in the year 1982. Ruth and Joe had three daughters, Shawn, Robyn and Gillian Slovo. The book is Ruth’s Memoir of her time in prison during her 117 isolated imprisonment.
This book has made me appreciate freedom and democracy all over again. Things our parents and grandparents were exposed to under apartheid were just atrocious. I didn’t realize how many non-black people were involved in the struggle and this book introduced me to some of them. I took long to finish this book because I often paused to google names I had never heard of before.
So in a nutshell, the book chronicles Ruth First’s courageous, unapologetic defiance of the system of the time even under difficult conditions. She shares what she was exposed to, how she coped with the loneliness and fear, her relationship with the wardens, and basically how she kept herself sane away from her family and friends. Many ways of getting information from her by the security branch were tried but she never cracked. At times they would tell her that such and such a person had said a particular thing in order to get her to say what she knew regarding the happenings at the farm house but she stood her ground. The story is gripping, emotional and very personal.
The book also balances out the bold experiences where she stood her ground and commanded respect from her enemies during interrogation and also does not shy away from experiences where her emotions showed. When a shower was built in the prison bathroom on her request, I took my hat off for her – this is one of the parts in the book that has stuck to my mind – so much respect. On day 89 when she was released only to be rearrested, this exposed the ugly of the system and how much they played on people’s emotions and the abuse of power by the authorities. Freedom and equality for all at all costs – that was the goal, always overshadowing any kind of pain and torture for Ruth and many others who went through the same.
These people of old were made of the sterner stuff. The resilience, the strength, the character, the politics and the history of the day are a rich come away in this book. My confidence is renewed and I appreciate my freedom all the more.
Read this book.
Yo! I used to read A LOT June 3, 2015
One thing about moving and having to deal with boxes is that it reminds you just how much junk you manage to hoard over the years but on the flip side, one also finds things long forgotten. Treasures if you may. This evening scrambling through one of the many boxes, I found this book where I used to list books I had finished reading in 2004. This was not even the whole list because I read ‘Postmortem’ by Patricia Cornwell in July after I had just moved to moved Cape Town and Chantal van Steijn introduced me to this awesome Writer. This means by mid 2004, I had already read 24 books.
Currently I am on about a book a month or a book in 2 months which I must improve on but with school and a demanding job, it is tricky. The trend will steadily improve though because some of you have asked that I do more book reviews.
FYI – I am currently reading ‘I write what I like’ by the legend, Steve Bantu Biko, courtesy of Dr Simon Tati Mangcwatywa. Don’t worry mate, I’ll look after your prized possession well. Biko? You may ask. Aren’t you too late in the century for that? You should have read that ages ago! I know…Bear with me here! My own 2015 ala ‘post-democracy’ review of the book will follow
LIRA – Making HERstory – A decade of achievement (Part 2) February 12, 2015
Ok this is long overdue. This is a continuation of the review I did on Lira’s book a few weeks ago. To read Part 1 of the review, go here.
So I had hoped that Lira would share her secrets on caring for her Afro right? Well, it happened that the very next page I read after writing the first review dealt with that exactly. Pretty basic actually. Wash and moisturizer full stop simple and practical.
The middle of the book is decorated with 16 pages of Lira’s photographs through various stages of her life and I must admit I went there first before reading the book 😜.
The rest of the book is written by two people, Clyde Meela – the journalist who co-wrote the book with her and her husband, Robin Kohl. Meela writes about the interviews he had with Lira’s family and her friends while Robin goes deeper into what happens behind the scenes of the Lira brand. Meela appeals to the softer side of Lira, what her upbringing was like and all the people that have contributed to whom Lerato and not so much Lira is. Robin on the other hand speaks of relationships with co-musicians, sponsors and other business partners and what it takes to be at the helm of this super brand.
Overall, I loved this book but more especially the first part where it is written from her point of view. The last 2 parts of the book are also quite interesting as they give other perspectives to Lira but I wasn’t too excited by them. You see I like hearing things from the horse’s mouth.
As mentioned before, if there is anything I have taken from this book, it is the spirit of tenacity, excellence and working hard to achieve ones’ goals. I am proud of what this African child has managed to build! Keep shining!
LIRA – Making HERstory – A decade of achievement (Part 1) January 24, 2015
I generally do a book review after having finished a book but I have to make an exception with this one. I absolutely love auto/biographies. I find people and their stories fascinating so I’m very drawn to such books to hear what inspires people, what makes them who they are, and what goes on in their minds.
Hearing ‘I’m a believer’ by Lira from a list of shuffling songs on my iPod today made me sit up and really listen to this lady. All of a sudden the song had new meaning because I knew how it had come about
Courtesy of a big sale at Kalahari.com, I bought myself a copy of the LIRA – Making herstory, a decade of achievement book and from when it got delivered yesterday afternoon, I have struggled to put it down. For those who may not know who Lira is, here’s a short description.
Lira is a dazzling (read book to find out why I use ‘dazzling’), multi-award winning South African artist who seems to be grown way ahead of her years. She sings and performs with a great deal of talent, passion and energy which has captivated the hearts of many South Africans and internationals alike. ‘Lira’ is her stage name/nickname emanating from her name ‘Lerato’ which means ‘love’ in the Setswana / Sotho languages. Her list of achievements is quite long and after reading the book, like me, you’ll have newly found respect and admiration for her and her craft.
I was amazed by how much a hard worker she is. I think everyone in South Africa will tell you how busy Lira is. Hardly a week goes by without hearing of a concert that she’ll be singing at. The book is candid about her experiences into the music industry, her upbringing and how she goes about making things happen in her life and career. When people out there have a talent and believe that things will just fall on their laps, that people will discover them while they do very little on their part, Lira’s story will MAKE you WANT to get up and go chase after your dreams. This girl is a go-getter of note.
I am only half-way through the book but I am left speechless at how much one can go after a dream and live a life of purpose despite the challenges it brings. I dare everyone who’s got a dream to take time and read this book and learn how tenacious one has to be in achieving what they dream for themselves. So far, I’m left inspired, intrigued and mesmerised by the sheer volume / magnitude of person she is. I now know for sure that when we do work we are good at or love or things we believe we are born to do, we can be the best in our field and live a full life. The cliché ‘love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life,’ rings true.
She goes into how her songwriting sessions take place, how she believes for things in her life, how she relates with family and how her upbringing has impacted her. I mean real honest and deep things that I am not sure I would share – quite candid. The book makes me feel like I know her a bit better and will hopefully understand her better. I know that for me, watching her perform or hearing her song on radio will never be the same again. She has my respect.
I just had to pause and mull over what I’ve read so far. I hope in pages to come I will hear about how she keeps her Afro in tip-top shape! 😜
To be continued… Read Part 2 here…
At Risk (Patricia Cornwell) December 14, 2014
2006, Sphere, ISBN: 978-0-7515-3871-7, Pages: 229
It has been a very long time since I’ve read a book in one day and this book was such a beautiful reminder of what I love in books; simply written, beautiful plot, suspense and just a don’t-put-down attraction to it. This book drew me in from the get go. But then again I love Patricia Cornwell’s books. I have read a couple of her books and this one didn’t keep the secret away for too long like in her usual work. I will preview some of her other books for you in the future. I could kind of figure some things out early on but not in a way to give the story away just yet or in a way that spoils it.
In At Risk, Cornwell tackles the behind the scenes of how dirty politics can get and just how much other sectors can be involved in the politics of politics, in this case the forensic world. An investigator, Winston Garano is called out of an Elite course by the ice queen, District Attorney, Monique Lamont who is running for Governor to see about a 2 decades old case that will help her gain popularity in her quest for the Governor seat. Of course some people are not happy about that plan and without her knowing, people she trusts are the ones who will plot her downfall.
Old secrets come out, emotional twists are inevitable, basic old-fashioned detective work is at play and people’s true identity is revealed in this story. Both Garano and Lamont make you fall in live with detective work so much that you can’t wait to read what happens next. I recommend this book to anyone who loves Cornwell’s books and those who are new to crime fiction. This would be a great and simple book to start off with. Happy reading!
Buy your copy here…