The ruthlessness of the apartheid state in eliminating its opponents was a key theme in the speeches made during the 10th anniversary commemoration in Cape Town of the assassination of activist and journalist Ruth First.
First was killed in a letter bomb explosion on August 17, 1982, at Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo, Mozambique.
Several speakers, ranging from ANC president Nelson Mandela to the 1991 Nobel Literature laureate, Nadine Gordimer, said First was among the first anti-apartheid fighters to fall victim to the regime's death squads.
Her former husband, South African Communist Party chairperson Joe Slovo, said First did not belong to any military structures but became a target of the apartheid system's death squads merely for preaching the need for respect of human dignity.
As a journalist, she did not believe in just writing for the sake of it, but in "words as weapons". She wanted to use her writing to get people to act.
Addressing more than 4000 people at the University of the Western Cape's Great Hall, Mandela said it was difficult for the government's amnesty proposals to be taken seriously, because 10 years after First was murdered people were still being assassinated.
Mandela told a ululating crowd that he "was shattered" on hearing of First's death while he was in prison and "felt an insistent sense of loss and loneliness.
"Ruth spent her life in the service of the people of southern Africa. She went to prison for her beliefs and she was murdered because of her political acumen, combined with her resolute refusal to abandon her principles."
Mandela praised the media for its role in revealing the murder of Matthew Goniwe and three other Eastern Cape activists, and other apartheid crimes. [Documents that surfaced in May revealed the direct involvement of the State Security Council in the 1985 murder of the four activists.]
However, Mandela said that evidence linking Adriaan Vlok to the Goniwe murders was "only the tip of the iceberg".
The ANC leader was applauded when he concluded that peace would be difficult to achieve until there was a recognition of the real causes of violence and those forces responsible for "a low intensity war against the people" were disbanded.
He identified three forms of violence against anti-apartheid activists and ordinary people:
- random terror against people irrespective of political affiliation or ethnic origin;
- assassination of lower-and middle-ranking leaders of the democratic movement; and
- systematic assassination of leading political figures such as Ruth First, Matthew Goniwe and David Webster.
"Through all these layers runs a consistent thread: the South African security forces who, until now, have been placed above the law.
"It is a small consolation that Ruth First's memory lives beyond the grave, that her spirit of freedom infuses many committed to an open society, rigorous intellectual thought, courage and principled action", Mandela added.
[From the South African New Nation.]