Marie-José Moumbaris, née Smoothy: a lifelong fighter against the apartheid regime

Tribute to a lifelong communist and fighter against apartheid, a daughter of France, but a dedicated friend to the oppressed everywhere.

Comrade Marie-José Moumbaris, née Smoothy, was born on 5 July 1949 and died on 3 September 2020.

The following oration was delivered at her funeral by her husband and comrade, Alexander Moumbaris.


I thank you for your presence, a testimony of friendship and comradeship towards Marie-José, but also for your wish to comfort our family.

Marie-José was my companion, my comrade, my joy of life, affection, and tenderness. Her departure left a huge void, impossible to compensate. It was not only she who left us, but also all the hopes, projects, and especially our everyday life.

Even the objects in the house, which had meaning with her, don’t have one anymore when they are not shared. Yes, Marie-José had a big place, a very big place in my life and in her daughter Chloe’s life, and her absence is creating a huge rift.

We met in a flight on the way to a holiday camp in Greece. Our first encounter was when I stepped on her foot in the bus that took us to Kalogria.

She worked as a bookkeeper, but was much more drawn to art. Quite succinctly, Marie-José was also my valiant comrade in the various struggles in which we engaged.

Regarding South Africa, her involvement as a member of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the South African Communist Party and the ANC led to her being arrested, imprisoned, and interrogated. But she held on until the end.

That was just one step in the struggle that she continued here in France. On the one hand, she participated in the anti-apartheid information struggle, and on the other, she worked tirelessly, together with various organisations and personalities, to get me and all the other South African prisoners released.

This period, when being a known communist was not always an asset, nor an advantage in her relationships, was full of pitfalls for a 22-year-old mother. She persevered. Seven years later, by escaping with two other comrades, Steven Lee and Tim Jenkin, I was able to join her and share her struggle.

During those seven years she had spent exceedingly difficult times politically, financially, and in the family itself.

When in 1994 the South African regime was replaced by our comrades in the liberation movement, the situation changed for us, too.

Among other things, that same year we started to publish a magazine called Les Dossiers du BIP. In this work she corrected me, kept the accounts and critiqued the articles … and this lasted until n° 221 of Les Dossiers du BIP – that is to say, until last Thursday.

In 1996, she and I (accompanied by our daughter Chloé) were honoured at two official meals, hosted by the ANC and members of the South African government, in Cape Town and Johannesburg.

In 2012, she was awarded the Sabotage Campaign Medal by the then president of the Republic of South Africa, Jacob Zuma.

Marie-José was born in Clichy-la-Garenne, a Paris suburban municipality, on 5 July 1949, into a large working-class family. Her maternal grandfather, an immigrant from Czechoslovakia, was named Kasals, and was a worker at Renault on Île Séguin. Her paternal great-grandfather was British. He had come to France for World War I, and bore the name Smoothy, the surname of Marie José.

Her father, Claude Smoothy, worked at Usinor metallurgical factory in Noisy-le-Sec, not far from Paris. He died at the age of 55 from cancer, in all probability induced by working conditions. At the end of her career, her mother, Raymonde Smoothy, had become inspector at Crédit Lyonnais. She died a year and a half ago on 3 September 2019. Her brother Olivier Smoothy is with us.

Marie-José, my companion, my comrade, by her devotion, her life and her struggle deserves recognition.

A documentary where she contributed an interview will shortly be released. It appears that it will be dedicated to Marie-José and all the activists of the ‘London Recruits’ who have since departed.

The London Recruits were militants recruited in London and sent on secret missions to South Africa. It was in London that we lived, and we were recruited by Ronnie Kasrils, who later served as minister, with various portfolios, from 1994 to 2008. He played a particularly important role in the struggle.

Heartwarming letters of condolence have been pouring-in: from comrades and friends, most of whom I have known, but others, surprisingly, were unknown to me. There was also a moving article in the Morning Star in London. We thank them all.

To conclude: it is with pride that I refer to Marie-José as my comrade, my partner and my wife.

She was also one of the foremost French representatives in the fight against the apartheid regime.

Honour to her name, honour to her memory.

Hamba Kahle, Comrade Marie-José

Alexander Moumbaris
Argentan, Normandy, 8 September 2020