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