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Remembering Joe Slovo: A lawyer and communist who changed South Africa

Joe Slovo was a South African lawyer and revolutionary. He commanded the Umkhonto We Sizwe, the military wing of the African National Congress and South African Communist Party.



joe slovo
By Lenin Tinashe Chisaira

On 6 January each year, the South African Communist Party commemorates the anniversary of Joe Slovo’s death at Avalon Cemetery in Soweto. Joe Slovo was a South African lawyer and revolutionary. He commanded the Umkhonto We Sizwe, the military wing of the African National Congress and South African Communist Party.

One lesson from the life of luminaries like Nelson Mandela and Je Slovo is that the fight for social justice is not just in the courtroom. The courtroom can stifle the struggle due to its concentration on established traditions, operating within the confines of established laws which may fuel class inequality in society and etiquette.

His Life

Joe Slovo was born in Lithuania in 1926. His family emigrated to South Africa when he was eight and where his father worked as a truck driver. Slovo came from a Jewish upbringing, but he became an atheist.

Slovo left school in 1941 to work as a dispatch clerk. He joined the National Union of Distributive Workers. In 1942, he joined the South African Communist Party in 1942.

He fought in World War II  with the South African forces in North Africa and Italy.

Law Studies

Joe Slovo completed a law degree between 1946 and 1950 at Wits University. He was a student activist and was in the same class as Nelson Mandela. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree and Bachelor of Laws degree.

Marriage to Ruth First

In 1949 he married Ruth First, another prominent Jewish anti-apartheid activist and the daughter of SACP treasurer Julius First. They had three daughters, Shawn, Gillian and Robyn. Ruth First was to be assassinated in 1982 in Maputo by a parcel bomb.


In 1950, the SACP was banned Slovo and wife were listed as communists under the Suppression of Communism Act and could not be quoted or attend public gatherings in South Africa. He became active in the South African Congress of Democrats and was a delegate to the June 1955 Congress of the People that drew up the Freedom Charter. He was arrested and detained for two months during the Treason Trial of 1956. He acted as a member of the defence team as well as being an accused. Charges against him were dropped in 1958. He was later arrested for six months during the State of Emergency declared after the Sharpeville massacre in 1960.

Joe Slovo (right) with Nelson Mandela, two lawyers and revolutionaries in Africa

In 1961, Slovo emerged as one of the leaders of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the ANC, formed in an alliance between the ANC and the SACP. In 1963 he went into exile and lived in Britain, Angola, Mozambique and Zambia. In his capacity as chief of staff of MK, he codetermined its activities, like the 1983 Church Street bombing. In 1984, Slovo, an ANC and SACP member, was forced to leave Mozambique in terms of the Nkomati Accord between the Samora Machel’s Republic of Mozambique and apartheid South Africa. In 1984, he was elected general secretary of the SACP in Lusaka, Zambia. In 1985, he became the first white member of the ANC’s national executive.

End of Apartheid and the New South Africa

In 1990, he returned to the country to participate in talks between the apartheid government and the ANC. In December 1991, he was present at the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) and served on its working group dealing with constitutional principles and a constitution-making body and process.

He stood down as SACP general secretary in 1991 due to poor health and was given the titular position of SACP chairperson. Slovo was succeeded by Chris Hani, who was assassinated in 1992 later by a white Polish right-winger.

At the end of apartheid and after the elections of 1994, Slovo became Minister of Housing in Nelson Mandela’s government, until his death to cancer on 6 January 1995 of cancer. He was buried in Avalon Cemetery, Soweto. Around 50,000 people, mostly black, attended the event.

  • South Africa: No Middle Road
  • Has Socialism Failed?

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Law Profile

Doreen Majala: The Kenyan lawyer and education supporter with a big heart

Besides her philanthropy and legal work, Doreen is an established speaker and moderator with knowledge in current affairs, politics and business.



By AfricaLegalNews

Doreen Majala found the Doreen Majala Foundation in 2015 as a personal initiative (still is). She is a Kenyan lawyer with a big heart for children and education. The foundation came up as an idea to fill in loopholes in the country’s education sector.

The founder shared her story with AfricaLegalNews.

“I took the initiative to visit over 20 schools across the country to get the feel of the learning conditions. Truly, it was devastating to see the dire need, especially in lack of stationery materials,” says Doreen.

The foundation engages in Motivational and Career talks hosted by the founder and also through volunteers who come on board to inspire the students during our charity visits.

The foundation partners and collaborates with interested parties who share similar goals.

“We have worked with the Miss University Kenya Organization, Tabitha’s Daughters, Ficha Uchi Campaign, Fresh Cuts Foundation, Kenya Girl Guide Association, among others,” she says.

The aim of the foundation aims at creating equal learning opportunities for every child through education by reaching out to underprivileged schools to supply basic needs for effective learning.

Among the schools and homes, the foundation has worked with is Dagoretti Mixed Secondary School (Kawangware), Kawangware Ecumenical Development Services (KEDS) an informal school in Kongo Village, Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA), Riara University, Gatina Primary School in Kawangware, St. Mary Home in Langata, Ukunda Children’s Home in Kwale, Nyumbani Children’s Home (Dagoretti), Pumwani Child Survival Education Centre among others.

Doreen studied for her Bachelor of Laws at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, Nairobi. In 2015 she joined the Kenya School of Law. She is an advocate pending Admission

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Law Profile

South Africa’s new Deputy Public Protector Adv Nompilo Kholeka Gcaleka

Advocate Nompilo Kholeka Gcaleka was appointed the Deputy Public Protector of South Africa for seven years from 1 February 2020.



By Tanya Dube

Advocate Nompilo Kholeka Gcaleka was appointed the Deputy Public Protector of South Africa for seven years from 1 February 2020.  SA’s President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed the advocate in terms of Section 2 A (1) of the Public Protector Act. She replaced Advocate Kevin Malunga.

Adv Gcaleka graduated with an LLB degree in 2003 from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. She is currently studying towards a Master’s degree in Commercial Law with the University of Johannesburg.

Adv Gcaleka was admitted as an advocate of the High Court of South Africa in 2006. Adv Gcaleka was legal advisor to former Minister Malusi Gigaba. That past role led the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and Democratic Alliance (DA) parties to raise objections over her appointment.

However, the National Assembly finally approved the nomination and appointment with 203 to 103 votes.

Gcaleka was chosen from a list that included SARS senior legal manager, Moshoeshoe Toba, Adv Shadrack Nkuna, Adv Noxolo Mbangeni from the Public Service Commission; Adv Lwasi Phumelela Kubukeli and Adv Puleng Matshelo.

She is a former national chairperson of the Society of State Advocates of South Africa and a member of the Black Lawyers Association.

Speaking to staff in Pretoria, Adv. Kholeka Gcaleka said: “The value I will add is that of ensuring that we execute the mandate of the Public Protector to realise the needs and aspirations of the people of South Africa.”

Trivial: Adv. Kholeka Gcaleka speaks six languages, namely , Afrikaans, English, Sotho, Tswana, Xhosa and Zulu.

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