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
Now South African women face a more insidious enemy in the form
of HIV and AIDS, which costs their country 200,000 lives
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
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
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