Gillian Slovo is an author and playwright who grew up as the daughter of two anti-apartheid activists in South Africa. She published her first novel in 1984, and found a career writing crime and thriller novels, before turning to works reflecting her South African identity. She came to the UK in 1964 when her family were exiled from South Africa.
In 2000 she published Red Dust, about the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was made into a film released in 2004. Her 1997 memoir Every Secret Thing: My Family, My Country, is an account of her childhood in South Africa and her relationship with her parents Joe Slovo and Ruth First. They were both famous South Africans and major figures in the anti-apartheid struggle who were imprisoned under the regime. Her mother was assassinated by South African forces while in exile in Mozambique in 1982.
‘Writing, for Gillian Slovo, is best described as a process of interrogation into what happens when individual lives are caught up in political events.
Her later work in particular has been a means of exploring, both directly and obliquely, the history of her parents’ involvement in anti-apartheid activism in South Africa, and of acknowledging the effects of that involvement on their children. Her unique insight into the complex interweaving of personal with public has made her a poignant, if sometimes cynical, commentator on the slow, traumatic processes of liberation and reform.
The power of Slovo’s writing, and its effectiveness as political commentary, stem ultimately from its reliance on two very different perspectives; the first, a close personal engagement with a transitional South Africa, and the second an imaginative distance, created through the fictional reconstruction of that same landscape. Later works have reached beyond South Africa, as Slovo has proved herself capable of exploring the political landscapes specific to other times and places. Her writing suggests, in the end, that the novel, and the thriller format in particular, is an important means of liberating both personal and political reminiscence – a means of raising in fictional terms the questions which remain too painful for the arena of fact.’
– Excerpt from Marina’s British Council Profile by Eve Patten/Guy Woodward, 2009
From 1948 to 1994 a system of racial segregation was in place in South Africa, known as Apartheid which categorised inhabitants into four racial groups—”black”, “white”, “coloured”, and “Indian”. People were only allowed to live in the area assigned to their racial group, and non-whites were deprived of their rights.
This system created significant internal resistance and violence, including a series of popular uprisings and protests that the government met by banning opposition and imprisoning their leaders. This made many people leave the country. On June 12th 1964 Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison.
By the turn of the decade fears about immigration had risen and the Commonwealth Immigrants Act of 1962 was the first template for immigration controls in Britain on a large scale. It was aimed at restricting people from citizens of British commonwealth countries who had been coming to the UK to seek employment in the post-war recession. The Act permitted only those with government-issued employment vouchers to enter, and for the first time ethnicity began to be thought of as a key component of citizenship. The Act was amended by the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968, before being superseded by the Immigration Act 1971.