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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Jack Simons - teacher, student of life, communist

South African Communist Party veteran Jack Simons died on the 22nd July 1995 at his home in Cape Town. SACP General Secretary, CHARLES NQAKULA delivered the following address at the memorial service.

"White South Africans of the last century resented the tribesman's way of life. They complained that he had too much land, leisure and sex. Instead of working for an employer, as was his proper destiny, be battened in ease on the labour of his wives. African women, said the colonists, were hardly better off than slaves. Tribal marriage and self-sufficiency were blamed for a scarcity of wage workers that impeded the growth of the colonial economy and disappointed hopes of a quick prosperity."

So begins Jack Simons' book, African Women: their legal status in South Africa.

For those of us who had the honour of knowing him, this opening passage vividly brings back his personality. The passage is so typical of Jack Simons. Here in a few sentences are the abiding interests of his life - history, politics, the oppression of women, economic exploitation, and the national question. But the passage also illustrates all the qualities of comrade Jack's personality intellectual clarity, motivated by a political passion and moral outrage, but always blended with a deep sense of humour, and irony.

It was this combination of skills that made Jack Simons such an outstanding teacher. And it was, indeed, as a teacher that most of us got to know him, and to love him.

Teacher

Comrade Jack was not just a teacher by profession, he was a teacher by vocation, in his whole personality. The proof of this is that, wherever he was, and often in the most unlikely situations, he found himself becoming a teacher.

He had an illustrious academic career. At the University of Cape Town, in the Comparative African Government and Law Department he pioneered a whole series of inter-disciplinary studies. Long before it became the trend to "africanise" academic studies in SA, comrade Jack was doing this. And he inspired many young students in this pioneering work - among them Albie Sachs and Raymond Suttner.

He was also a visiting professor at Manchester University, and professor at the University of Zambia, Lusaka.

But comrade Jack's teaching skills were not confined to universities. While in exile in Lusaka, he was asked, by President Kenneth Kaunda, to run seminars for his cabinet.

In the 1980s, comrade Jack, already in his 70s, became a political commissar in MK camps in Angola. A whole mythology, rooted in the memories of hundreds of MK recruits, has since grown up around his teaching in our camps.

Comrade Jack despised dogmatism and parrot learning. In his lectures (they were often more participatory discussions), he used to take a certain delight puncturing parrot learning.

"What is the difference between strategy and tactics?" he would ask. Someone would put up a hand and then recite a long quotation from Lenin.

"That's very interesting", comrade Jack would say, "but what does all of that actually mean?"

There would be silence from ourranks.

Comrade Jack would then, seemingly, shift the discussion to an entirely different matter.

"You see the river down there? You see the mountain ridge beyond? How would you, just three of you, move a mortar down the valley, over the river, and up the mountain?"

A lively discussion would follow. Someone would propose tyre tubes for the river, someone else a raft. Someone would get a donkey, another a bicycle for getting the mortar up the slope.

After 30 minutes of animated discussion, comrade Jack would intervene. "Comrades, you have just illustrated the difference between strategy and tactics. You have all had the same strategic objective: to move the mortar. But you have all proposed different tactical approaches for realising the same strategic goal. Tomorrow, we'll study dialectics."

Comrade Jack's style of teaching was to make each of us realise that we had, from our own experience, knowledge. He helped us to organise our own knowledge. He was a teacher who truly empowered those whom he taught, he didn't drown us with his own ideas.

A student of life

In 1987, The African C'omjnunist ran a short editorial on the occasion of comrade Jack's 80th birthday. The title of the editorial was "80 Years Young".

That captures something else about comrade jack, his enduring youthfulness. One of the things that kept him young was his passion for life, and for studying it.

And this is also what made him such a good teacher. He always considered himself a student among students.

As a student of life Jack Simons always grabbed every opportunity to learn from a new situation, from a different society, from a new generation. Wherever he was, he liked to learn the local languages, to be able to communicate with ordinary people.

He liked to describe himself as a "plaasjapie from Riversdale".

And, indeed, he was rooted and down-to-earth. But he was never narrow, or regionalist. He was one of the most radically anti-chauvinistic, the most radically internationalist individuals.

A communist

A teacher, a student of life, comrade Jack for the greater part of his 87 years, was also, without apology, a communist. If he was an outstanding academic, it was not despite, but because of his communism. If he was a wonderful teacher, and a lifelong student of life, again it was not despite, but because of his communism.

He was elected an Executive member of the CPSA's Central Committee in 1938, and was serving in that position in 1950 when the CPSA was banned. Like all South African communists of his generation, comrade Jack suffered persecution, detention, and, in his case, a long exile,

In the 1990s it has become fashionable, in some quarters, to speak of communism as if it were stalinism, to speak of communism as if it were dogmatic, anti-humanistic, and undemocratic.

The communism that Jack Simons espoused, that he elaborated, and that he lived, has nothing to do with bureaucratic repression. It has nothing to do with dogma, and everything to do with humanism and democracy.

On behalf of the South African Communist Party, Jack Simons's Communist Party, I would like to convey the party's condolences to comrade Ray. Also to comrade Jack's children, Mary, Tanya, Johan, and their families.

I began with a quotation from comrade Jack's book on African Women. I would like to end with another quote, referring once more to the white colonial authorities of the 19th century:

"Like all benevolent despots, thepatriarchal rulers identified the common goal with their own ambitions and appetites, deprecated the capacity of their subjects for self-rule, and considered that cases of hardship arising out of an abuse of authority were a small price to be paid, by others, for the perpetuation of their miniature empires. The victims had reason to think otherwise."

Rulers come and go. Who is to say that we do not harbour our own would-be "benevolent despots" with their own "miniature empires", those who might be tempted to "identify the common goal with their own ambitions and appetites."

In the spirit of comrade Jack Simons, the SACP pledges itself to be the voice and conscience of those, the victims, past, present and future, who, too often have "reason to think otherwise".

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.