This month 117 Days by Ruth First is published on the Virago Modern Classics list. Her daughter Gillian Slovo, who wrote the introduction, speaks about the book on Woman's Hour on Radio 4 today. It is a really moving interview, featuring a recording of Ruth First herself talking about her imprisonment. Listen now, because it will only be available for the next week.
Ruth First was a journalist and academic and, along with her husband Joe Slovo, strongly active in the anti-apartheid movement. She escaped South Africa in 1964. In 1982 she was working at a university in Mozambique. On the 17th August she opened a letter bomb addressed to her by the South African security police.
117 Days is Ruth First's personal account of her detention under the iniquitous '90-day' law of 1963. There was no warrant, no charge and no trial – only suspicion. '90-days' is a misnomer, as Ruth is immediately rearrested on release, and it is explained to her that they can hold her for an indeterminate amount of time. Kafkaesque and terrifying, Ruth has no idea why she is arrested, though it could be for many reasons, and during interrogations tries to work out what the security police know without putting herself, or her colleagues, in further danger.
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