ANC Statement on the death of Ray Alexander Simons, African National Congress, 12 September 2004

It is with deep sadness and regret that the African National Congress has learnt of the death today (12 September 2004) of Ray Alexander Simons, a champion of the working class and an outstanding fighter for the rights of women.

A stalwart of the African National Congress, the South African Communist Party and the trade union movement, Ray Alexander Simons was earlier this year awarded Isithwalandwe, the ANC`s highest honour.

Ray Alexander Simons was involved in the liberation struggle from an early age, and remained committed throughout her life to the liberation of the South African people from all forms of oppression.

The ANC joins all South Africans in paying to tribute to a remarkable, dedicated and selfless individual. Her intellectual prowess, energy and organisational capacity will be sorely missed. She nevertheless remains an example and inspiration to all who must continue her work.

The ANC extends heartfelt condolences to her family, friends, comrades and colleagues. Together we mourn the passing of a great South African and a true cadre.

BIOGRAPHY OF RAY ALEXANDER SIMONS

Ray Simons, born Rachel Alexandrowich in 1913 in Latvia, became active in the underground Latvian Communist Party while still a teenager. She arrived in South Africa on 6 November 1929, and joined the Communist Party of South Africa on 11 November, five days afterwards. She was involved with all facets of the Party`s work, and after being dismissed from a job for attending the founding conference of the Anti-Fascist League, became increasingly involved with trade union activity. She helped organise workers in many different trades, but the union, which became synonymous with her name was the Food and Canning Workers Union (FCWU).

Founded in 1941, the FCWU spread through the fruit canning industry of the Boland and up the west coast among fishing communities. It recruited black and white workers, men and women, and earned the reputation of being both effective and militant. In the 1950s it played a leading role in the South African Congress of Trade Unions. Ray wrote a regular column on trade union matters in The Guardian, a newspaper affiliated to the Communist Party of South Africa. In 1953 she was served with the first of a series of banning orders.

In April 1954, together with Helen Joseph, Lilian Ngoyi and Florence Mkhize, she helped found the Federation of South African Women, which fought for women`s rights and pioneered a Women`s Charter. In September of that year a banning order issued by Justice Minister Swart forced her to resign as general secretary of the FCWU. Another banning order, in April 1954, forced her to resign from the Federation of SA Women.

Ray married Jack Simons in 1941, the day after she formed the Food and Canning Workers Union. Simons, a devoted communist, was also a powerful imparter of ideas. As a lecturer in African Studies at the University of Cape Town, he introduced generations of students to the rich textures of African law, culture and society. Simons was also banned, first in 1961, and then again in December 1964, when he was barred from lecturing.

In May 1965 Ray and Jack left South Africa and went straight to Zambia. They were to remain in exile for twenty-five years. From Zambia they went to England, where Jack got a position at the Manchester University. Together they wrote Class and Colour in South Africa, a pioneering analysis of the relationship between class and race, and how they have shaped the South African political and social landscape. They returned to Lusaka in 1967. Jack Simons lectured in the bush camps in Angola. Ray continued doing underground work with the Movement, and lectured on the position in South Africa. They were amongst the first exiles to return in 1990. Ray and Jack had two daughters and a son, all-living in South Africa. Jack passed away in August 1995.

At the ANC`s annual January 8th celebration in 2004, President Thabo Mbeki announced that the ANC`s National Executive Committee had bestowed the ANC`s highest honour, Isithwalandwe, on Ray Alexander Simons. Mbeki described Ray Simons as "an outstanding leader of our workers and people who spent her entire adult life fighting for the freedom of our people".