A Tribute to Ray Alexander 1913 - 2004

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Feminist Africa

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University of Cape Town

I remember reacting very strongly to the Jewish prayer [which Orthodox Jewish men say] in the morning, “Thank you God for making me a man and not a woman”. I don't know whether I was five years old or six ... but I refused to accept this prayer (Suttner, 1997: 43). By the time of her death on 12 September 2004, Ray Alexander was known around the world as a prominent agitator for political and human rights in apartheid South Africa. Her name had become synonymous with the Food and Canning Workers Union and the Federation of South African Women. In spite of 25 years of exile from South Africa (between 1965 and 1990), Alexander remained a consistent force in radical politics, eventually becoming the longest serving Communist Party functionary in South Africa. There were many facets to Ray's life: the young Zionist, the revolutionary, the trade unionist, the Communist Party activist, and the exile. In all these roles, she displayed a unique and progressive approach to the status of women in South Africa.