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Ruth First mural makes an instant tourist attraction

The Star

MPILETSO MOTUMI

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234 01/09/2012 Beauty Mlakalaka stands next to Ruth First statue at the back of her house which was painted by Ben Slow in Soweto. Picture:Giyani Baloi

HER BEAUTIFUL eyes pierce through the wall, looking into the distance. Her smile is thin but soft and her dark curly hair has a rich finish.

Ruth First holds her head in her hands as she looks at you.

Hers is the face that greets you on the wall of house No 408 in Nomzamo Park, Orlando East, Soweto.

The 4m tall mural was painted by British artist Ben Slow showing First as she appeared in one of her favourite photos.

The political activist, journalist, academic and wife of anti-apartheid activist Joe Slovo was assassinated through a letter bomb in Mozambique in 1982.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of her death.

Slow used pencil for the outline of the black and white portrait and then followed with water-based ink, a double brush and some spray paint.

“It was quite tricky to find quality pictures because there aren’t many available. But it was well worth it,” he said.

Slow started the mural on Heritage Day and finished four days later.

The mural isn’t likely to be on the wall for ever, though, as Slow stylises his murals in such a way that they drip for a gritty effect and change with the weather.

The owner of the house where the mural was painted, Beauty Mlakalaka, said she had become an overnight tour guide as people had been asking her about it.

“When they first came to ask to paint the house I did not know who First was, but after they explained it to me I was more than happy to have my wall used because I loved what she stood for,” she said.

Mlakalaka said some tourist groups had come over the past two weekends to see the mural.

The process was documented and will form part of a documentary on the Struggle by London-based production company Six Oranges. Producer Shafiur Rahman said Mlakalaka’s house was on a busy main road, which made it the ideal location.

“A lot of kids play there and Ben had an audience the entire time,” he said.

Rahman said the idea of the images being created was to use them as breathing spaces within the documentary to allow the viewer to reflect and digest the information.

“We are dealing with political memory, and a memory, dare I say, which is sadly fading,” he said.

Slow, who is a first-time visitor to SA, said he would return to make more murals around the country.

“We have been talking about the project for a couple of years and when I came here I wanted to commemorate unsung heroes who deserved to be immortalised for the sacrifices they have made,” he said.

Slow said he had spent time researching First.

First’s daughter Gillian Slovo said it was wonderful to have the painting in Soweto because it was a community her mother cared so deeply for.

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