Dinner with De Lille

By Bronwynne Jooste Time of article published May 6, 2011

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Her political career spans more than three decades, and in this time Patricia de Lille has learnt that ‘politics is not for sissies’.

And the fact that she’s a cancer survivor means the DA mayoral candidate has faced down her fair share of struggles.

De Lille, 60, became the first woman in the country to launch her own political party when she founded the Independent Democrats.

The party has since merged with the DA, with De Lille becoming the provincial MEC for social development. Today, she is that party’s mayoral candidate for Cape Town.

Relaxing at home in Pinelands this week with a glass of wine, she reveals that she and her family were made politically aware from a very young age, living in Beaufort West.

Her father, Henry Lindt, taught De Lille and her siblings about justice from early on, and they were all involved in the struggle against apartheid.

And she reveals that while her name might well be one of the best known in politics, she still considers her maiden surname, Lindt, to be her real name.

De Lille’s father died in 1981, and today her 84-year-old mother Gertrude lives in Northpine with De Lille’s sister.

De Lille and her husband Edwin have two children, Carmen and Allistair.

Carmen lives with her three children in George.

Allistair still lives with his parents in their two-bedroom home. There used to be three bedrooms, but the third has since been converted into a study.

De Lille also reveals that a few years go she enlisted the help of an interior decorator to style her home.

Also sharing the family home are four huskies – Neo, Miska, Snowy and Chocolate.

They howl when the Cape Argus team rings the doorbell, but De Lille says they spend most of their time sleeping.

“I iron every morning and greet them through the window. Then I say: ‘Come sing for mummy’,” she laughs.

On a detour to the subject of politics, De Lille says she is not fazed at all by political mud-slinging.

“I’ve been fighting for poor people all my political life, more than 35 years.

But I will be a mayor for all. I’m a struggle stalwart and no one can take that away from me.”

De Lille says she never pays any attention to detractors who, but one person whose opinion she cares about deeply, however, is Nelson Mandela’s.

When he signed her copy of Long Walk to Freedom in 2005, the former statesman described De Lille as a “talented and fearless young lady”.

Moving on to what’s for dinner, De Lille says she enjoys spicy food, and it’s her husband who has prepared the mutton curry, salad and naan bread for our dinner.

De Lille admits Edwin and Allistair have been holding the fort, and doing most of the cooking recently while she has been on the campaign trail.

While she knows that criti-cism comes with holding public office, her family has chosen to stay out of the public eye, acting more as her “springboard” on issues.

And her husband has only accompanied her to the opening of Parliament once.

“There is only one politician in this house,” De Lille says.

While she may be going up against the ANC’s Tony Ehrenreich for the mayoral chain, there is something the two have in common.

In 1999, De Lille had growths removed from her throat after an ongoing cough. At the time, she was a smoker and had spent years working in a paint factory. She went to collect her test results before heading for Parliament, where former US president Bill Clinton was speaking, she recalls.

Her doctor told her the growths on her larynx were cancerous, and she should start treatment immediately.

“I was still deciding whether to go to Parliament. I was on my way to my car and I lit a cigarette. Then it sunk in, and I just threw that cigarette away. I knew I had to stop,” said De Lille.

This was followed by weeks of radiation treatment, during which De Lille lost her voice.

“Do you know how it feels not being able to speak when you’re a politician?”

She was given the all-clear in 2003, but still goes for check-ups.

The treatment permanently damaged her salivary glands, so she constantly has a dry throat.

While her health worries are a thing of the past, new stresses come with her post in the provincial government, her mayoral bid and the DA’s national campaigning.

She hasn’t had much time for her usual 9km walk on the nearby golf course. But she tries to de-stress once a month when a massage therapist visits her at home.

But after more than 30 years in politics, she has no regrets.

“I’ve grown, I’ve travelled the world. The only casualty has been my family, but I promised I’d make it up to them when I retire.”

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