People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 39

September 26, 2004


 Ray Simons: Communist And TU Veteran Dies


LEGENDARY South African communist and trade unionist, Ray Simons, died in Cape Town tonight. Ray Simons was born Rachel Alexander in Latvia in 1914. When she came to South Africa at the age of 15, she was already a political militant.


She was active in the Communist Party and trade union movement in Cape Town from the 1930s. She was elected a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party in 1938 and served on this structure until the party’s banning in 1950. She was the first national secretary of the Federation of South African Women, and played a leading role in organising the Food and Canning Workers’ Union (FCWU) of which she was the general secretary until the apartheid regime banned her from trade union work in 1953. Africans in the Western Cape elected her to parliament in 1954, but she was prevented from taking up her seat by an act passed for this purpose during her election campaign.


 Ray was married to a fellow Communist Party leader and academic, Jack Simons. Jack taught African governance and law at UCT, pioneering African studies there. Exiled in 1965, Jack and Ray based themselves in Lusaka. Together they wrote a major history of progressive struggles in South Africa, Class and Colour in South African 1850-1950.


Through the decades of exile, Ray remained active, working for the International Labour Organisation in Lusaka, and maintaining extensive contacts with trade union and underground structures inside South Africa. Soon after the unbanning of the ANC and SACP in 1990, Ray and Jack returned to Cape Town.


 Ray Simons will be remembered for her passionate struggle against exploitation and oppression, her distaste for pomp, and her distinctive Central European accent which she never lost.  (INN)