4 May, Ruth Herloise First is born in Johannesburg to Julius and Matilda First, Jewish immigrants (from Latvia and Lithuania, respectively) who helped establish the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA).
First becomes a member of the Young Left Wing Book Club.
After matriculating at Jeppe High School for Girls, First begins studying at the University of the Witwatersrand.
First completes her degree and graduates with a Bachelor of Arts (Social Science), receiving a first in sociology, anthropology, economic history and native administration.
First gets a job at the Social Welfare Division of the Johannesburg City Council but does not work there long. She then gets a job at as the Johannesburg editor of The Guardian newspaper.
First marries Joe Slovo, a lawyer and fellow member of the CPSA.
First and Slovo’s first daughter, Shawn, is born.
First and Slovo are among the first 600 to be ‘named’ under the Suppression of Communism Act.
15 March, Gillian, First and Slovo’s second daughter, is born.
First is a founder member of the South African Congress of Democrats (COD).
First becomes the editor of Fighting Talk, a radical left wing journal.
First is involved in organising the Congress of the People and is on the drafting committee of the Freedom Charter, but is unable to attend due to her banning order.
5 December, First is one of the 156 activists who are arrested and charged with treason in what would become the Treason Trial.
March, In the aftermath of the Sharpeville shootings, First takes her children to Swaziland.
September, With the State of Emergency having been lifted, First and her family return to South Africa. She begins working as the editor of the New Age (successor of The Guardian).
29 March, The charges are dropped against the 156 in the Treason Trial.
First goes on a secret trip to South West Africa (now Namibia). On her return she is banned and restricted to Johannesburg for five years.
First’s South West Africa, a book on Namibian history, is published.
9 August, After the arrests at Rivonia, First is arrested at the Wits University library and held in solitary confinement under the 90-day clause.
7 September, First is released from solitary confinement but is immediately re-arrested and held for another 27 days. She is held for 117 days in total, during which she is interrogated and attempts suicide.
March, First leaves South Africa on an exit permit with her children and goes into exile, joining Slovo in England.
First’s book, 117 Days, about her experience in solitary confinement, is published. The book is turned into a movie with First playing herself.
The South African Connection: Western Investment in Apartheid, edited by First, J Steele and C Gurney, is published.
First’s The Barrel of a Gun: the Politics of Coups d'etat in Africais published.
2 July, Muammar Gaddafi responds to questions submitted to him by Ruth First about his background and activities in the RCC.
First begins lecturing at Durham University on the sociology of underdevelopment, a position she holds for six years.
Libya: the Elusive Revolution, based on field interviews by First, is published.
First is appointed professor and research director at the Centre for African Studies at Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo, Mozambique.
First’sThe Mozambican Miner: a Study in the Export of Labour is published.
13 August, First delivers a speechat the Centre for African Studies.
17 August, Following a UNESCO conference at the Centre for African Studies, First is killed by a letter bomb in Maputo, Mozambique.
19 August, Matilda First, First’s mother, and Robyn Slovo arrive in Maputo for First’s funeral.
20 August, As part of his Freedom concert, Abdullah Ibrahim closes a gala event by reading out a poem by Bridget O’Laughlin in memory of First.
24 August, First’s funeral is held in Maputo and is attended by 3000 people. She is buried in Maputo near 13 other South Africans who had been killed in 1981 in the Matola massacre.
October, Sechaba publishes an obituary celebrating First’s life.
The Ruth First Memorial Lecture is inaugurated.
24 August, Joe Slovo delivers the second Ruth First Memorial Lecture in Maputo.
The film A World Apart is released. The screenplay is based on First’s life and is written by her daughter Shawn.
17 August, Nelson Mandela delivers the Ruth First Tenth Anniversary Commemoration Trust speech in Cape Town.
6 January, Slovo dies after a long battle with cancer.
Gillian Slovo publishes her memoir, entitled Every Secret Thing: My Family, My Country, which provides an account of her childhood and relationship with her parents.
The Department of Environmental Affairs launches an environmental patrol vessel named after Ruth First.
24 July, The Ruth First Jeppe High School for Girls Memorial Trust is established at Jeppe High School for Girls’ to honour First as part of the school’s Student Scholarship Programme.
7 June, A symposium is held unveiling a digitised collection of The Ruth First Papers,hosted by the Institute of Commonwealth Studies and the Review of African Political Economy at Senate House, University of London.
18 June, The HSRC Press launches its Voices of Liberation series, with the first two books focusing on the lives of Ruth First and Albert Luthuli, at the Idasa offices in Pretoria.

Collections in the Archives