Honours for five sports heroes

22 October 2008

When the names of those in line to be awarded with South Africa’s National Orders – the highest honour that the country can bestow on its citizens – were announced on Tuesday, five sportsmen were among them.

These were: rugby players Bryan Habana and Percy Montgomery, cricketers Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini, and soccer legend Patrick Pule “Ace” Ntsoelengoe.

Bryan Habana

Habana is the reigning International Rugby Board Player of the Year and equalled Jonah Lomu’s record of eight tries in a World Cup tournament when South Africa won the title for the second time in Paris in October 2007.

A try-scoring dynamo, Habana has dotted down 31 times in his 43 tests, many of those tries being spectacular efforts exhibiting his remarkable speed.

More importantly, Habana has crossed the racial divide; a player of colour, he has become a hero to all South Africans and is a uniting factor in the dream of the Rainbow Nation.

Percy Montgomery

Montgomery, meanwhile, was South Africa’s top points scorer and the only man to top a century of points in the tournament. During the course of the current season, he became the first Springbok to play 100 tests and eventually retired, in August 2008, with 102 tests under his belt, making him only the ninth player in history to achieve the milestone.

His total of 102 test appearances leaves Montgomery tied for sixth on the all-time list with Australian great Stephen Larkham.

He retired with a host of other important South African records to his name, including the most points in a test career – 893 – and the most points in a test – 35 versus Namibia.

Importantly, besides all the record-breaking achievements, he was a role model and a model professional; those traits are common to the five sportsmen chosen to receive national orders.

Shaun Pollock

When Shaun Pollock announced his retirement in early 2008, in the last appearances he made for the Proteas at each of South Africa’s international grounds, he was wildly cheered by the crowds, a popular man from one end of South Africa to the other, and few would argue that he didn’t deserve it.

A thoroughly decent man and a wonderful role model, as recently as 2007 Pollock was named South Africa’s Cricketer of the Year. He was respected by both teammates and opponents, and also by knowledgeable cricket fans throughout the world.

He retired as South Africa’s all-time leading test wicket taker, with 421 wickets at the superb average of 23.11. He also contributed with the bat, scoring 3 781 runs at 32.31. In addition, Pollock claimed 393 wickets in one-day international cricket and scored a total of 4 059 runs.

He led the Proteas’ bowling attack for many years, firstly with Allan Donald and then with Makhaya Ntini.

Makhaya Ntini

Ntini ranks second to Pollock only among South African test wicket takers, with 358 to his name. His match haul of 13 for 132 against the West Indies in Port of Spain in April 2005 is the best ever bowling analysis by a South African in a test.

As a young boy, Ntini was discovered at Mdingi in the Eastern Cape and through the predecessor of Cricket South Africa, the United Cricket Board, was given the opportunity to make his mark in the game. He has done so and then some.

Ntini has become a role model, not only for children from previously disadvantaged backgrounds, but for all children who aspire to play cricket at the highest level.

A garrulous man who smiles easily, he has been voted the most popular sportsman in South Africa on a number of occasions. He is also a popular tourist when the Proteas travel abroad.

Patrick Pule “Ace” Ntsoelengoe

Patrick Pule “Ace” Ntsoelengoe is regarded by many as the finest footballer South Africa has ever produced.

He was the midfield maestro of many fine Kaizer Chiefs teams during the 1970s and 1980s, when the Amakhosi dominated the game in South Africa with a brand of exciting football that he engineered.

However, he spent most of his prime years abroad, playing 11 seasons in the North American Soccer League for the Miami Torros, Denver Dynamos, Minnesota Kicks and Toronto Blizzards.

He was voted an NASL All-Star in 1979 and 1982, while also earning honorable mentions in 1977, 1978, and 1980.

Ntsoelengoe was voted into the US Soccer Hall of Fame in 2003.

Former Bafana Bafana coach Clive Barker rates Ntsoelengoe on a par with French legend Zinedine Zidane. That is high praise indeed!

Sadly, Ntsoelengoe’s award will be a posthumous one. He passed away in April 2006 at the age of 50.

National Orders

The national orders will be bestowed by President Kgalema Motlanthe on Tuesday 28 October at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

In total, there will be 26 new recipients of the orders in the fields of sport, art, music, literature and the struggle against apartheid.

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