2003• HIV/AIDS Activist

>> Back to 2003 Awards


Patricia De Lille has been involved in politics in one form or another for the last quarter of a century.

It was her employment as a laboratory technician in the paint industry in Cape Town that initially led to her becoming involved in the South African Chemical Workers Union where she was elected Regional Secretary in 1983.

Her election as National Vice-President of The National Council of Trade Unions (NACTU) in 1988 saw her become the first woman to occupy such a high position in the trade union movement in South Africa. Building on this success, she was then elected onto the National Executive of the Pan African Congress (PAC) in 1989. In 1990 she became the PAC’s Relief Aid Secretary and led its delegation in the constitutional negotiations that preceded South Africa’s first democratic election in 1994. In Parliament she was appointed Chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Transport and was also made the Chief Whip of the PAC.

She has used her parliamentary position to forcefully speak out against government corruption, particularly in the case of the controversial arms deal. Patricia is an outspoken activist on other sensitive issues, including HIV/AIDS, xenophobia, and the rights of children in prison.

In addition to her parliamentary activities, Patricia serves as a trustee for both the Nelson Mandela’s Children Fund and the National Children’s Rights Committee and sits on the board of numerous civil society organisations.

In April 2003, Patricia took the bold step of forming her own political party, the Independent Democrats, where she intends to build on her support as one of the ten most popular politicians in the country to form an opposition in South Africa that cuts across traditional race and class divides and speaks to the most important issues affecting South Africa’s new democracy.

Her biographer, author and journalist Charlene Smith (a previous SAWW award winner) says of Patricia: “de Lille has been one of the most vocal female politicians in the fight against sexual violence and HIV/Aids.” De Lille was often voted South Africa’s favourite politician after Nelson Mandela, according to Smith. Mandela himself called her his favourite opposition politician. "She is a very strong, principled woman", he has said of her.

Her strengths and principles have become more evident than ever.

Following an accident that left her in a wheelchair for over 4 months, Patricia's work took on a new urgency "I realised the world could go on without me. That really changed my life." she says "I've decided I'm going to focus on 3 issues. I'm going to focus on corruption, the AIDS issue and on poverty.”

She is most passionate about the issue of HIV and AIDS -- and the government's stumbling response to the crisis. It is estimated that 1 in 8 South Africans is infected with HIV. Patricia de Lille has actively campaigned for solutions -- specifically in working towards the distribution of anti-retroviral drugs. Any HIV positive mother wants a child free of the destruction that HIV brings, "the government needs to roll out mother-to-child transmission programs, especially now that anti-retroviral drugs are being offered free of charge to them for that purpose." For Patricia De Lille, the work continues.

South African Women for Women is pleased to present Patricia with the HIV/AIDS activist award, in recognition of her leadership in the fight against the overwhelming impact of a disease that is decimating the African continent.