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Toronto Star
Aug. 11, 2003. 01:00 AM

South African women honoured for crusading roles

Fought against injustice, poverty, AIDS
Toronto organization gives awards


They struggled alongside their husbands and sons against a government that denied them civil rights because of their skin colour. They suffered savage beatings, were thrown into jail and saw their loved ones die before their eyes.

Now South African women face a more insidious enemy in the form of HIV and AIDS, which costs their country 200,000 lives every year.
Last night, six women who have fought against injustice and poverty in South Africa — and who have advanced the cause of South African women at home and in Canada — received awards from South African Women for Women, a non-profit volunteer organization based in Toronto.

Patricia de Lille, an outspoken opposition MP who was once voted the second-most popular politician in South Africa after Nelson Mandela, was honoured for her advocacy on behalf of HIV-positive people.
De Lille has long criticized the ruling African National Congress for its unwillingness to recognize the gravity of the AIDS epidemic in South Africa.
" When you face the cold face of HIV-AIDS, when you see how many people are dying, when there's complete denial of the problem by the people who wear cufflinks, it's not been easy," she said at the reception last night.
On Friday, the South African government pledged to make anti-retroviral drugs available to all people infected with HIV, a step that de Lille has demanded for years.
" It was the single most dramatic announcement of its kind since the end of the apartheid era," said Stephen Lewis, the keynote speaker at last night's gala and the United Nations special envoy for HIV-AIDS in Africa.

Lewis said women have taken the lead in fighting the virus in South Africa: "It's the women of South Africa who are handling all the home-based care, it's the women who are handling the prevention of mother-to-child clinics, it's the women who are leading the NGOs."
Albertina Sisulu, wife of Walter Sisulu and a fearless opponent of the apartheid regime, was given the Woman of Distinction award. Sisulu, who spent years in jail because of her opposition to apartheid policies, was too sick to attend the event.

Another crusader for justice, Rhoda Kadalie, was honoured for her work on behalf of women and the poor. Kadalie, who was human rights commissioner for the Western and Northern Cape from 1995 to 1998, has spoken out against poor prison conditions and government corruption, and has advocated for gender equality in education.
Also honoured last night were Zubeida Barmania, who was fought against poverty and for gender equality in both Canada and South Africa; educator Denese Belchetz; and philanthropist Mary Anne Chambers.

The event was expected to raise about $100,000, which will be used to support scholarships, a teacher mentoring program, and a health promotion program.