Orders for ‘ordinary’ people

3 December 2003

South Africa has introduced three additional national orders to recognise some of the extraordinary things done by ordinary South Africans.

The Order of Luthuli, Order of Ikhamanga, and Mendi Decoration for Bravery – each awarded in gold, silver and bronze categories – complete the country’s new set of national orders, created to express the new identity of the democratic South Africa that came into being in 1994.

National orders are the highest awards that a country can bestow on its citizens or eminent foreigners.

In December 2002, President Thabo Mbeki awarded the first of South Africa’s newly conceived national orders – the Order of Mapungubwe, the Order of the Baobab, and the Order of the Companions of O.R. Tambo – redesigned to reflect the inclusiveness and diversity of a democratic South Africa.

In December 2003, awarding the additional three orders for the first time, Mbeki said they represented “the nobility of human endeavour … The distinguished South Africans we honour today are fit and proper persons to receive these awards, because they occupy an important place among those of our people who are the handmaidens of our liberty, who represent our creative talent, who manifest the national gift of courage that rises with danger.”

The three new orders are:

Order of Luthuli - 
 lapel rosette The Order of Luthuli – for outstanding contributions to democracy, nation- building, human rights, justice and peace, as well as conflict resolution on the continent. The order is named after Chief Albert Luthuli, whose leadership during the Defiance Campaign against the apartheid system won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1960.

Order of 
 Ikhamanga - lapel rosette The Order of Ikhamanga – for excellence in the fields of arts, culture, literature, music, journalism and sport. The order is named after South Africa’s second national flower, the Strelitzia.

Mendi Decoration 
 for Bravery - lapel rosette The Mendi Decoration for Bravery – for outstanding courage in the face of danger. The decoration is dedicated to the South African troops who lost their lives in 1917 when the SS Mendi was destroyed. The Mendi was struck and cut almost in half by another ship, the SS Darro, while crossing the English Channel from Britain to France during World War One.

‘A new South African identity’

Emphasising the importance of recognising the country’s “unsung heroes and heroines”, the chancellor for the orders and director-general in the Presidency, Frank Chikane, said earlier this year: “There are many people out there, women and men, doing a great job towards the development of this country.”

Chikane acknowledged that the process of instituting the new orders was not an easy one, “because we are moving away from the image of the past that recognised only 20 percent of society”, adding that South Africa is completing “a process started some time ago, to make sure our new image as South Africans is reinvented in its totality”.

Speaking at the 2003 awards ceremony, Chikane said the new orders reflected a new South African identity. “We (as South Africans) are engaged in the quite extraordinary actualisation of the nature of society in South Africa and what we should be like in the future.

“It is not given to every generation that it should be present during and participate in the act of creation”, Chikane said. “I believe that ours is privileged to occupy such historic space.

“We are privileged … to be part of this historic act of conceiving and designing new national orders and the new coat of arms for this new democratic country. We are privileged as a generation to be part of the conception and design of a new national flag as well as develop a new national anthem.

“We are privileged to be part of the process of self-creation, of defining who we are and what we want to be.”

SAinfo reporter

Would you like to use this article in your publication or on your website? See: Using SAinfo material