Deutschland: Ruth Weiss

Life is a never-ending learning process. I learned everyone is unique, yet everyone has equal rights. I learned it is essential to defend such rights, to respect the rich diversity of cultures.

— Ruth Weiss

An exemplary biography of the 20th century: Ruth Weiss is born into a Jewish family in Germany in 1924. In 1936, she arrives in South Africa with her family and experiences the development of apartheid. She defies the system with her typewriter, quietly but with determination, in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Europe. She does research, reports, forms friendships, participates in projects to overcome racism. Her strongest quality: she listens. Listening is the basis for understanding, understanding paves the way to reconciliation – a model for peace that can be applied globally.

Ruth Weiss was a witness of her time. As a schoolgirl she experienced the destructive force of anti-Semitism and persecution. In 1936, she left Germany with her family and emigrated to South Africa. The South African writer Nadine Gordimer wrote: “Ruth Weiss found herself in a country where the mark of the victim is not the yellow star but the black skin. Being white, she could have been content, in South Africa, with being accepted for full citizenship denied blacks.” She had exchanged one unjust system for another: in 1948, racism was legalized in South Africa through the introduction of apartheid. Ruth Weiss became an economic journalist and worked in the whole of southern Africa and temporarily in Europe. She soon became an accepted authority in her field. She reported the situation in southern Africa without compromise and soon ran into difficulties with the authorities. She was justifiably suspected of making common cause with the oppressed blacks. While working in Zimbabwe (formerly Southern Rhodesia) from 1966 to 1968, she was declared persona non grata, subsequently refused re-entry to South Africa and blacklisted by the Portuguese in Mozambique. She then went on with her quiet work over decades, becoming “a shrewd and greatly trusted interpreter of African thought, aims, and strategies, and a friend of many black leaders and – perhaps more important – ordinary people.” (Gordimer) Beginning in 1988, Ruth Weiss worked at the Harare-based Zimbabwe Institute for Southern Africa, which enabled members of liberation movements to meet white South Africans secretly, to prepare the way for a peaceful end to apartheid. Though she returned subsequently to Europe, Africa remained in her heart. She has published numerous books on a wide range of issues. Her motto is “circles which close.” Her struggle for equality is a struggle for peace.