Skip to main content

An image of the Soweto Gospel Choir on the right and Ruth First on the left

We are celebrating the life of one of our former lecturers, Ruth First.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Ruth and we have organised for the Grammy World Music Award-winning Soweto Gospel choir to mark this occasion. 

Celebrating the life of Ruth First 

Ruth First was a Sociology lecturer here at the University between 1973 and 1978. She played an important role in the struggle against apartheid and other abuses of human rights in South Africa. 

Ruth exposed violence and exploitation through fearless investigative journalism and campaigned tirelessly for truth and freedom. While in Mozambique in 1982, Ruth was assassinated by a parcel bomb by order of the South African police. 

After her death, we renamed one of our scholarship schemes - The Ruth First Educational Trust - in her memory. Each year, the university and the RFET provide a postgraduate scholarship to a student from southern African student from a historically disadvantaged background. 

Year of events 

In collaboration with the REFT and the Centre for Humanities Engaging Science and Society (CHESS), we have organised a number of events to commemorate her life. This includes a performance from the Soweto Gospel Choir, as part of their Freedom Tour, in the unique setting of Durham Cathedral on Monday 24 October. 

The legendary Soweto Gospel Choir won the 2019 Grammy World Music Award for their album Freedom, a collection of uplifting songs celebrating the struggle for freedom in South Africa and honouring Nelson Mandela. 

Aside from the choir performance, we hosted an online and in-person event at St Chad’s College, where a series of speakers explored the work of Ruth First and the issues faced by activist research in relation to objectivity. The event was attended by one of Ruth’s daughters, Gillian Slovo, who has also donated Ruth’s typewriter to the University.

In collaboration with Durham City Parish Council, the mural on the side of Ruth First House on Providence Row in Durham was restored. The Parish Council commissioned the original artist, Lotte Shankland, to restore the mural, which was originally created to coincide with the first free 1994 democratic elections in South Africa. 

Read more: