Legendary South African Communist and trade unionist Ray Simons died in Cape Town Sept. 13. She was 90.
Simons was born Rachel Alexander in Latvia in 1913. 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 early 1930s, and was elected to the political bureau of the Communist Party in 1938. She served on this structure until the party’s banning in 1950.
Simons was the first national secretary of the Federation of South African Women, and played a leading role in organizing the Food and Canning Workers’ Union, 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 Simons was prevented from taking up her seat by an act passed for this purpose during her election campaign.
She was married to a fellow South African Communist Party (SACP) leader and academic, Jack Simons. Jack Simons taught African government and law at the University of Cape Town, pioneering African studies there. Exiled in 1965, Jack and Ray based themselves in Lusaka, Zambia. Together they wrote a major history of progressive struggles in South Africa, “Class and Color in South Africa, 1850-1950.”
Through the decades of exile, Ray remained active, working for the International Labor Organization in Lusaka, and maintaining extensive contacts with trade union and underground structures inside South Africa. Soon after the un-banning of the African National Congress and the SACP in 1990, Ray and Jack returned to Cape Town.
A statement from the South African Communist Party said, “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. The SACP is proud of the legacy she has bequeathed to our Party and to all South Africans. Hambe kahle (Go well), Ray Simons!”