3 December 2003
Forty-one South Africans – and the members of two Defence Force rescue missions – have received the country’s highest honours for outstanding contributions to nation building, the creative arts and sport, and for courage in the face of great danger.
President Thabo Mbeki bestowed the newly instituted Order of Luthuli, Order of Ikhamanga, and Mendi Decoration for Bravery on some of South Africa’s “ordinary” heroes and heroines – ordinary people who have achieved extraordinary things – at a gala ceremony at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on Tuesday.
The new orders and decoration – 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.
- For more on the new orders, see Orders for ‘ordinary’ people
Speaking at the ceremony, Mbeki said the new orders “represent 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.
“For all time, these men and women will be admitted as esteemed members of these orders, and recipients of the decoration, subject to the precedence and authority of our national anthem, our national flag, and our national coat of arms, which represent the highest symbolic repositories of our common nationhood.”
Confronting ‘clear and present danger’
First to take the podium was game ranger Sam Nkomo, who received the Mendi Decoration for Bravery (silver) for rescuing two tourists who were being attacked by elephants at a resort near Madikwe in North West in July 2003.
Slabbert Leonard, who saved eight members of the Congress of SA Trade Unions from drowning after their bus plunged into the Saulspoort dam while they were on their way to a rally on May Day this year, also received the Mendi Decoration (silver).
Another recipient of the decoration – in the gold category – was not an individual, but all members of the South African National Defence Force involved in rescuing over 14 000 people from the floods that ravaged neighbouring Mozambique in 2000. South Africa’s role in the rescue and relief effort was lauded by Mozambique and the international community at large.
Another group award – in the silver category – was made to the members of the former South African Defence Force involved in rescuing all 587 passengers and crew aboard the Oceanos, which sank off the coast near East London in 1991. The mission has since become a textbook illustration of maritime rescue professionalism, studied by many rescue centres across the world.
Two posthumous decorations in the gold category were awarded to Umkhonto we Sizwe soldier Basil February, one of the first South Africans to sacrifice his life in the armed struggle; and to Petros Linda Jabane, also an Umkhonto we Sizwe fighter, whose last-ditch stand against apartheid security forces led to his becoming known as the Lion of Chiawelo.
All the recipients, Mbeki said, had “confronted clear and present danger, with full knowledge of the potential harm to themselves, to save human life and limb … By their deeds, they reaffirmed our philosophy of Ubuntu – ‘I am because of you’.”
Leonard said that he never thought his “bravery” would result in his being honoured, as he had performed an ordinary act as part of his involvement with the National Rescue Institute.
“I never though it would come to this. This such an honour for me”, Leonard said, adding that if he had to do it again he would do it “with my eyes closed!”.
The Order of Luthuli – for outstanding contributions to democracy, nation-building, human rights, justice and peace – was awarded in the gold category to the late freedom fighters Charlotte Maxeke, Patrick Molaoa and Alfred Nzo, as well as to struggle veteran John Nkadimeng.
In the silver category, posthumous awards went to Jafta Masemola, Archie Gumede, Matthew Goniwe, Cissie Gool and Mthuli Ka Shezi, while former Black Sash leader Mary Burton and African National Congress (ANC) stalwart Phillis Naidoo were at the ceremony to receive their awards.
Other recipients in the silver category were liberation theologian Father Albert Nolan, Winnie Kgware – first president of the Black People’s Convention formed in 1972 – and Afrikaner academic Prof Willie Esterhuyse, who facilitated negotiations between the African National Congress and the apartheid government in the late 1980s and early 1990s
Lekgau Mathabathe (posthumous) and Jasmat Nanabhai became members of the order in the bronze category.
Phillis Naidoo, dedicated her award to her sons Sha and Shdhan, whom she lost during the struggle against apartheid, and the “thousands of sons and daughters of the struggle”.
“I lost two sons in the struggle”, Naidoo said. “I can’t say we thought we would make it, all I know is that we had to struggle, but here we are. So this award is for my boys and everybody who can’t be here – Masemola, Gumede, Cissie, so many people have died, and this is for them.”
Mbeki praised the new members of the order, saying: “All of them have sacrificed much in their own lives, and yet some, their very lives, so that all our people can enjoy the right to live in a society free of oppression, racism and bigotry. All of them have been standard bearers for freedom who have blessed us with the gift of liberty.”
Human imagination and talent
The Order of Ikhamanga – for excellence in the fields of arts, culture, literature, music, journalism and sport – was awarded to some of South Africa’s most famous artists, writers, sportsmen and women, as well as to some that are not as well known.
Artists Dumile Feni (gold), Gerard Sekoto (gold), Cecil Skotnes (gold) and Gladys Mgudlandlu (silver) became members of the order, along with writers Bessie Head (gold), Olive Schreiner (gold) and Alex La Guma (gold) and actor Ken Gampu (silver).
Princess Princess Magogo ka Dinizulu, regarded as an authority on Zulu music and remembered as one of Africa’s greatest composers, musicians and singers, received the award in the gold category, while film maker Lionel Ngakane – who passed away just a week before the awards ceremony – received the award in the silver category.
Among the sports men and women to receive the award were some of the pioneers of non-racial sport in South Africa: footballer Steve Mokone (gold), boxer Jacob Ntuli (silver), cricketer Basil D’Oliviera (silver), cricket and rugby player Eric Majola (silver), middle distance athlete Sydney Maree (silver), and cricket and rugby player Goolam Abed (bronze).
Others to receive the award were golfing great Gary Player (gold), swimmer Penny Heyns (silver), high jumper Hestrie Cloete (silver), paralympic athlete Zanele Situ (silver), and boxer Gerrie Coetzee (bronze).
Steve “Kalamazoo” Mokone is regarded as the greatest footballer South Africa has ever produced. He became the first black professional in Europe when he signed up for English club Coventry City in 1955. He went on to achieve superstar status playing for the Dutch side Heracles and later Torino in Italy. In 1959 he was elected Europe’s best soccer player.
Jacob Ntuli was the first black South African boxer to receive world acclaim – at a time when black boxers were severely restricted in South Africa. He became the first black South African to win an Empire championship (the forerunner to the Commonwealth title) in 1952, effectively making him one of the best two or three flyweights of his time, an achievement confirmed when Ring magazine selected him as its top-rated flyweight.
Mbeki said that the country’s “leading cultural workers and sportsmen and women” had all contributed “to the pride we as a nation feel in our achievements that celebrate our inner African and human soul”. Their achievements, Mbeki said, were representative of the country’s “wealth of human imagination and talent”.
‘A new South African identity’
Speaking ahead of Tuesday’s ceremony, the chancellor for the orders and director-general in the Presidency, Frank 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”, Chikane said.
Speaking during the ceremony, Chikane said: “It is not given to every generation that it should be present during and participate in the act of creation. 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.”