Born Ruth Löwenthal in Fürth (near Nuremberg) in 1924, Ruth Weiss fled with her parents and sister to South Africa in 1936 to escape rising German persecution. Too poor to study at a university, she became a self-taught expert on African economics and then a journalist. She was declared persona non grata by the white regime because of her critical reporting and “sanction busting” stories.
She moved to The Guardian in London where she continued her anti-apartheid work, counting amount her friends many of the pioneers of the anti-apartheid movement and writers of the time. This includes her close friend, the Nobel Prize winning author, Nadine Gordimer. She continued her work in Lusaka, Zambia and then in Cologne, Germany, as an editor in the Voice of Germany’s Africa-English department. She was co-founder of the Southern African Economist. As an invited staff member of the Zimbabwe Institute of Southern Africa (ZISA), she facilitated secret meetings of white and black South Africans, ahead of official talks that led to the dismantling of apartheid.
Starting in 1992 she wrote on the Isle of Wight for a decade and then moved to Germany in 2002 where she continued her research and writing of historical novels on anti-racism themes. She now lives in Denmark with her son and grandson where she continues an active writing and speaking schedule.
In “Mitzi’s Wedding”, a young German aristocrat defies convention to become a musician in the heady days of Berlin in the 1920s and ‘30s. Charming and exuberant, she braves the mesmerising ascent of Nazi Germany to marry one of the three men who love her. She is betrayed by the second who cowers before the voice of popular racism. Finally, continents away, she is revenged by the third. This novel considers how racism impacts the intertwined, families of victims and oppressors and the everyday voices of silence and dissent.
“Judenweg” is the fictional account of a young Jew turned robber out of anger and defiance against 17th century anti-Jewish laws. These laws forced thousands into homelessness, wandering along unmarked paths, unable to remain anywhere for longer than two days. The aimless walk from Fürth to Frankfurt took two weeks.
“Blutsteine” (Bloodstones) is a thriller set in Africa in the 90s, when diamonds were used in three-corner barter deals for weapons and drugs.
“Sascha und die neun alten Männer”, a children’s book, tells the adventure of a little Russian boy, who stumbles into a small house next to an old synagogue. Here he meets nine old men who have moved together in the hope that one day a Jew will visit the deserted quarter, so that they are “Minjan” – a congregation of ten Jews – to enable them to hold a synagogue service. Sascha finds the tenth man.
One of her non-fiction works is a biography of Sir Garfield Todd, the unlikely New Zealand missionary who became the Prime Minister of Rhodesia but was sidelined because of his liberal policies of racial equality. Another compares the Irish and African freedom movements.
The role of women in revolution is reflected, courageously and brutally, in The Women of Zimbabwe, where Weiss often cites the women’s narratives directly. One woman’s description of avoiding a massacre by hiding in a pit latrine for four days is particularly heart-wrenching.
“Zimbabwe and the New Elite” examines the dashed hopes of Robert Mugabe’s first independence decade where power was transferred from whites to a new black elite who all too readily abandoned the foundations of their revolution.
Her autobiography Wege im harten Gras (Paths Through Tough Grass) documents her life till the late 1980s and has an epilogue written by her friend, the Nobel Prize winner Nadine Gordimer.
Friends, a later autobiography, describes her life through a journalist’s prism as it intersected with history: Nelson Mandela (South Africa), Thabo Mbeki (South Africa), Kenneth Kaunda (Zambia), Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe), Premier Zhou Enlai (China), Barack Obama, Sr. (Kenya), Fidel Castro (Cuba), Tiny Roland (Lonrho Plc) and other manipulators of African mineral wealth, brushes with the South African secret police, and even meetings on the Royal Yacht Britannia (unpublished 2011).