Five sports stars to receive National Orders

17 April 2014

Five South African sports stars were on Wednesday named by the Presidency among the list of people who will be honoured with National Orders on Freedom Day, 27 April, in an investiture ceremony at the Presidential Guest House in Pretoria.

They are top athlete Caster Semenya, swimming star Cameron van der Burgh, Paralympic standout Fanie van der Merwe, wheelchair tennis ace Lucas Sithole, and footballing great Jomo Sono.

Caster Semenya

Semenya will receive the Order of Ikhamanga in bronze. The Order recognises South African citizens who have excelled in the fields of arts, culture, literature, music, journalism and sport.

The Presidency described her nomination in a statement as follows: “For her outstanding contribution in the sporting field of middle distance track running. Her performance against all odds has made the country proud.”

Semenya burst onto the international athletics scene at the 2009 IAAF World Championships in Berlin when she won gold in the 800 metres at the age of only 18. Her winning time was a sensational 1:55.45.

Two years later, at the IAAF World Championships in Seoul, Semenya fought her way back from injury to claim silver in the 800 metres.

The following year, at the London Olympic Games, she won another silver medal, to help South Africa finish 23rd on the medal table, significantly up from a tie for 70th in Beijing four years earlier.

The Order of Ikhamanga in Silver will be bestowed on the four remaining sportspeople.

Cameron van der Burgh

Describing Cameron van der Burgh, the Presidency said: “For his display of dignity and grace in his performance on international stages as a swimmer, while firmly rooted in South Africa and training at home. He has shown determination and strength and has portrayed continuous excellence in the field of aquatic sport.”

Van der Burgh’s promise was first shown on the world stage in 2007 when he won bronze in the 50m breaststroke at the Fina Aquatics World Championships in Melbourne.

In 2008 and 2009, he was the overall winner of the Fina World Cup, the short course world series that takes place in various major cities around the world.

In April 2009, he set his first long course world record in in the 50 metres, and that same year captured gold in the 50m at the Fina World Aquatic Championships in Rome. He also added a bronze medal in the 100 metres.

His achievements in 2010 included gold in the 50m and 100 metres at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi and victory in the 100m at the World Short Course Championships in Dubai.

The highlight of his career thus far occurred at the 2012 London Olympics when he won gold in the 100m in a world record time of 58.46 seconds.

Last year, he was crowned world champion in the 50m and also picked up a silver medal in the 100m at the Fina World Championships in Barcelona.

Fanie van der Merwe

“For his excellent contribution in the field of Paralympic athletics. He has pushed past physical impediments to shine as a man of courage,” the Presidency said of Fanie van der Merwe’s award.

Van der Merwe competes under a T37 classification, which is one of a number of classes for athletes with cerebral palsy.

He won gold in both the 100 and 200 metres at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics, with his 200 metres victory coming in a world record time of 23.84 seconds.

In 2011, he bettered that world record to 23.10 seconds at the All Africa Games in Maputo, Mozambique.

At the Paralympics, in London, in 2012, he snatched gold in the 100 metres again, edging out China’s Liang Yongbin in a photo finish to win the final in a world record equalling time of 11.51 seconds.

Unfortunately, in the 200 metres, Van der Merwe stumbled, lost his balance and then his title, despite running a still impressive 23.79 seconds.

Lucas Sithole

Wheelchair tennis star Lucas Sithole was recognised by the Presidency thus: “For bearing witness to resilience. He pushes past his limitations to achieve the seemingly impossible and has made history in the process.”

At the age of 12, Sithole lost both legs and his right arm when he fell under a train. Then, in 2005, when the sport was launched in South Africa, he was invited to a wheelchair tennis camp. He instantly took to the sport and by the following year he was representing his country.

Since then, Sithole has continued to make strides upwards in the world of quads wheelchair tennis. In recent years, he has become one of the world’s elite players.

In 2013, he made a massive jump, winning the British Open in July and following that up with victory in the US Open in September to capture his first Grand Slam title. In both tournaments he beat world number one David Wagner. He finished the year ranked second in the world.

In January of this year, Sithole finished runner-up in the singles and doubles at the Australian Open.

Jomo Sono

Describing Jomo Sono’s award, the Presidency said: “For his commitment and dedication as a footballer. His excellent contribution to the development of football and young talent is commendable.”

Nicknamed “The Black Prince”, Sono was a wonderfully skilled player, able to beat defenders with individual skills or astute passes. He could control the game from the midfield and was able to fashion some eye-opening goals, some with guile and others with power.

He first played for Orlando Pirates, but then headed to North America where he played for the New York Cosmos, Colorado Caribous, Atlanta Chiefs and Toronto Blizzards.

After his retirement in 1982, Sono returned to South Africa and purchased the Highlands Park Club in Johannesburg, renaming it Jomo Cosmos, in honour of the team that brought him to the USA.

Although the club is currently in the South African First Division, it has over the years enjoyed a number of successes, including winning the Telkom Knockout Cup three times and the Nedbank Cup once. Before the formation of the Premier Soccer League, it also won the National Soccer League title in 1987.

Among the players who played for Sono at Cosmos before going on to earn themselves lucrative overseas contracts were Mark Fish, Philemon “Chippa” Masinga and Helman Mkhalele. He is known for having a good eye for talent.

He also made a telling contribution to Bafana Bafana when he took charge of the national team as a caretaker coach after Philippe Troussier was fired just before the 1998 Africa Cup of Nations. With the team in disarray, a disaster was predicted by many. Instead, with Sono leading, Bafana made it all the way to the final, where they lost to Egypt.

Four years later, he was again the caretaker coach when South Africa narrowly missed out on the second round of the Fifa World Cup, bowing out of the event on goal difference, but only on goals scored.