2001• Health Award

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Mercia Andrews has established herself at the forefront of the struggle for a better life for South African women and children.”

Beginning professional life as a teacher, first at the Vanguard Primary school, and then at the Rural School in Great Break River and then at Steenberg, Mercia moved into the non-government organizational (NGO) sector, working with Labour and Community Outreach, the South African Domestic Workers’ Union and the Trust for Community Outreach & Education, becoming Director there in 1999. She is currently President of the South African National NGO Coalition (SANGOCO) the umbrella group for many of the social sector NGOs in South Africa.

Over the years she has expressed strong, progressive views on race, on economics, and on women’s health: leading the African delegation to an international conference on racism she said, “It will be a very difficult conference because ... poverty in South Africa has a certain face ... very much a rural woman’s face. Racism is very much tied up with economics here.” For Mercia, economics is tied up with many issues.

Economics is integral to the issue of access to health care. At a recent UN Social Summit in Geneva Mercia was part of the South African delegation advocating for medicine and treatment for the millions of people facing death from AIDS, provision of which is restricted by high drug prices, pharmaceutical patents, and diverging political priorities.

The South African delegation argued that inaction was not appropriate given that several nations in southern Africa could lose 25 percent of their workforce to the AIDS epidemic. Mercie said SANGOCO is pressuring governments and the private sector to adopt a joint strategy to combat the disease. If a solution is not found soon, she said, the impact of the disease on the economy in the next decade will be devastating.

At home in South Africa, she led the anti-poverty group Jubilee 2000 in protesting the government’s cutting social expenditures, deregulating labour and financial markets, tight monetary policies and the privatisation of state assets.

These policies, she said, “have a strong record of not only failing to eradicate poverty, but most importantly of causing poverty themselves.” Andrews and SANGOCO have been emphatic on calling for improved social service delivery, accelerated delvery of social welfare grants, increased child support grants and an end to cuts in government social spending.

“We call for a developmental approach to social security that views expenditure on these issues as an investment rather than a cost.”

Mercia also presents papers on rural development, the role of unions in economic development and poverty reduction, the challenges facing NGOs in South Africa, and issues of race, class and gender.

Without Mercia Andrews the poor, the disenfranchised and the sick would lack a voice: their needs would not be heard. South African Women for Women is proud to recognize Mercia for her commitment to speaking out on their behalf.