South African lawyer and politician, general secretary of the South African Communist Party 1987–91; chief of staff of Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC) 1985–87; and minister of housing in President Mandela's government 1994–95. He was one of the most influential figures in the ANC, and spent 27 years in exile.
Early life Born in Lithuania, Slovo emigrated to South Africa as a child with his parents, who had originally intended to settle in Argentina. Forced by poverty to leave school to take manual work before finishing his formal education, he soon became an industrial shop steward, where he secured benefits for white workers but, to his dismay, not for blacks. Despite his restricted education, he won a place to read law at Witwatersrand University, where he graduated with high honours. His early involvement with the South African Communist Party was consolidated when, in 1949, he married Ruth First, the daughter of the party's treasurer. As a partnership, they became a legend and their home a meeting place for radicals. In 1982 Ruth First was killed by a terrorist bomb in Mozambique.
Exile and return After Mandela and F W de Klerk, Slovo was perhaps the most significant figure in South Africa's recent history in that he was white and yet respected and trusted by the ANC and able to persuade Mandela that the ANC could embrace all shades of opinion and all races and colours. During his exile from South Africa, Slovo travelled widely from his base in Mozambique, preparing for a guerrilla war, which, he was convinced, was the only way of removing the hated system of apartheid and the regime that had installed it. A believer in the fundamental tenets of communism from an early age, he admitted in the 1980s that his uncritical support of the undemocratic Soviet regimes had been misguided.