“When my opponents attack me, I don’t go crying in a corner like a little sissy and say, ‘Oh you know they’ve attacked me, I’m a woman.’ I just wait for the next opportunity and return the punch. That’s how I behave in Parliament and obviously, not everybody likes it,” says Patricia de Lille, the executive mayor of Cape Town, in her biography written by journalist Charlene Smith.
De Lille is no sissy, that’s for sure. Two years of death threats for publicly questioning state corruption in the controversial R43-billion arms deal have not stilled her quest for justice, political accountability, and human rights.
De Lille was a former Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) MP and the MEC of social development in the Western Cape. She was suspended from Parliament for threatening to reveal the names of MPs alleged to have been apartheid-era spies, and once challenged all politicians to have HIV/Aids tests.
Smith’s well-written and researched biography, titled simply Patricia de Lille and published in 2003, offers an astute look into the private and political life of one of South Africa’s most outspoken politicians.
Former president Nelson Mandela called her his favourite opposition politician. “She is a very strong, principled woman”, he once said of her.
The pairing of author and subject is apt. It is clear that Smith has a keen admiration for De Lille’s work as a champion of those marginalised by society – women, children, HIV-positive people, the poor, the homeless. Smith says that De Lille has been one of the most vocal female politicians in the fight against sexual violence and HIV/Aids.
The book is both a deeply personal journey into De Lille’s life, tracing the deep roots of her family tree, and a close look into the pan-Africanism that shaped the politician’s political consciousness.
You will read about de Lille’s pregnancy when she was in standard nine (grade 11) – then “a shame” in the community; the death of her niece from a rare form of cancer; and, in the same year, the brutal rape and murder of her youngest sister.
Smith’s book also documents De Lille’s own battle with cancer of the larynx.
Her father Henry Lindt, a teacher, was her first political idol, De Lille says. He instilled in his children pride in being African.
Robert Sobukwe, the founder of the PAC, was her second political hero. “Sobukwe’s belief that an African was anyone who gave allegiance to Africa, regardless of their skin colour, resonated with me. It gave me an identity and a home.”
As well as being Cape Town’s mayor, De Lille is the leader of the Independent Democrats, a South African political party which she formed in 2003 during a South African floor-crossing window.
In mid-2010, the ID merged with the Democratic Alliance, South Africa’s official opposition, and De Lille has taken on dual party membership.
In 2005, three women instituted legal action against De Lille, Smith and publisher New Africa Books after their full names and HIV status were published without their consent. The judge dismissed the case against De Lille and Smith, but ordered the publisher to pay the plaintiffs R15 000 each in damages. He also ordered that the women’s names be deleted from any unsold copies.
First published: 4 April 2003
Reviewed: 4 July 2013
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