Women Community and Prison
Date: Thursday 8th May 2008
Time: 5:30pm - 7:00pm (A wine reception will follow)
Venue: R0.14 (Ramphal Building)
Special Guest Speaker Professor Barbara Harlow, University of Texas at Austin
Tortured Thoughts: the example set by Ruth First from her interrogation in 1963 to her assassination in 1982
When Ruth First’s killers applied for amnesty to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), a significant aspect of the Commission’s deliberations concerned whether or not she was a “legitimate target,” whether, that is, her assassins had acted out of “political motivation.” In other words, as the testimony suggests, First’s academic position at the time as research director at the recently founded Center for African Studies at newly independent Mozambique’s Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo, should have been decisive in determining that she was not a “legitimate target.” The TRC, however, decided otherwise, and her killers were granted amnesty. Academic affiliations may not be an excuse after all. But then, who is to say?
This paper proposes to discuss Ruth First’s career – from her detention and interrogation in 1963 in South Africa* to her assassination in 1982 – with reference to her academic appointments in Dar es Salaam in 1975 and in Maputo from 1979 to 1982. When to talk and when not to talk. What effect did the constant threat of torture during her detention have on her later public practices as a committed historian, scholar, and investigative reporter as she continued her career through the two decades that distanced her interrogation and her assassination? And what example does that trajectory of “tortured thoughts” set for another era’s academic coming of age?
* Ruth First. 117 Days. Penguin, 1965.