Returning home to South Africa seemed like a distant dream when Thandi Lujabe- Rankoe went into exile, spending 33 years of her life fighting for her home country’s liberation.
And just when it is was time to come home after South Africa’s first democratic election, former President Nelson Mandela sent her on a new journey.
This time, to spearhead and strengthen South Africa’s relations with other countries.
“At the time, I never thought I would be able to come back home when I was in exile. I thought I would die there like others did, but I was lucky I came back home and found my mother still alive.
“And even after I came back home, I was only home for six months and I was sent out in January 1995 to start a new embassy in Tanzania and I was there for four years,” says the 82 year-old Lujabe-Rankoe reflecting on her life and work.
Soon after her pioneering work in Tanzania, she was moved to Botswana and later to Mozambique as South Africa’s High Commissioner.
Among her many accomplishments, Lujaba-Rankoe facilitated trade and industry relations at governmental level, as well as facilitating South African businesses operating in Tanzania, Mozambique and Botswana, such as Murray & Roberts, Sasol, and Standard Bank.
It is this globe-trotting journey, navigating unchartered waters and forming relations with foreign countries as South Africa’s diplomat that landed Lujaba-Rankoe the National Order of Luthuli.
The Order of Luthuli is awarded to South Africans who have made a meaningful contribution to the struggle for democracy, human rights, nation-building, justice, peace and conflict resolution.
It symbolises the vision of the late Chief Albert Luthuli – the legendary liberation struggle leader and the first African recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1961.
Lujabe-Rankoe will receive the order in silver in an investiture ceremony on 25 April 2019 ahead of the Freedom Day celebrations.
She is one of the 30 people that will be bestowed with one of the six National Orders.
The National Orders are South Africa’s highest awards presented to individuals, both citizens and foreign nationals, by the President, in recognition of their contribution to the country.
Among the 30 recipients is songstress Yvonne Chaka Chaka, veteran journalist Mathata Tsedu and doyen of black business Bongani Donald Mkhwanazi.
The other five national orders are the order of Mapungubwe, Baobab, Ikhamanga, Mendi and companions of the OR Tambo.
Each order recognises a different contribution to the country.
The Order of Mapungubwe is awarded to South African citizens for achievements that have impacted internationally and served the interests of the Republic of South Africa.
The Order of the Baobab is awarded to South African citizens for distinguished service in the fields of business, the economy, science, technological innovation and community service.
South African citizens who have excelled in the fields of arts, culture, literature, music, journalism and sport are awarded the Order of the Ikhamanga.
The Order of the Mendi is awarded to South Africans who have performed an extraordinary act of bravery that placed their lives in great danger, or who lost their own lives in trying to save the life of another person, or by saving property.
Foreign nationals and other foreign dignitaries are also honoured through the Order of the Companion of OR Tambo.
The award is bestowed for friendship shown to South Africa. It is therefore an order of peace, co-operation and active expression of solidarity and support.
Each order is awarded either in Platinum, Gold, Silver or Bronze.
As 2019 marks the 25th investiture ceremony since the introduction of the new orders, Presidency Director-General Cassius Lubisi who is the Chancellor of the National Orders explains that the National Orders are not a new concept.
“The National Orders, are not new, even the apartheid regime had the orders but they might not have called them that but they did recognise citizens at that time,” says Lubisi.
When President Mandela assumed office in 1994, he continued with the old orders such as the order of Good Hope.
A decision was later taken to transform the national orders from those old orders of apartheid to new orders.
“This then introduced the new orders that we give now such as the order of Mendi, Ikhamanga, Mapungubuwe, Baobab, Luthuli and the order of the Companions of OR Tambo,” says Lubisi.
This year’s investiture ceremony comes as South Africa celebrates 25 years of democracy.
“The significance this year of course is that a silver jubilee, which is what 25 years is, is a critical milestone for any celebration of periods of time.
“It is our first such big celebration and the National Orders hope to reflect such strides that we have made. If you look at the types of people that are being honoured,” says Lubisi.
While the five national orders recognise South African citizens, the Order of Companions of OR Tambo recognises foreign nationals and their contributions.
The award pays homage to Oliver Tambo who led the international isolation of South Africa during the liberation struggle.
“South Africa like other countries is not an island. The importance of people to people relations is what makes the international relations system to tick.
“During our struggle many of our people left our country and went into exile where they were supported with shelter clothes, food and in some instances with arms.
“International friends made huge risks so the notion of the OR Tambo arises from that history.
“Oliver Tambo single handedly led the international isolation of South Africa. He was the prime diplomat, the Republic of South Africa has ever seen,” says Lubisi.
The Order of Companions of OR Tambo also recognises individuals who champion ideals that South Africa stands for.
“There will come a time when those of us who were in the struggle will no longer be around and that does not mean the Order of Companions of OR Tambo will cease to exist. It will exist but it will exist to recognise the friends who support South Africa in any manner,” says Lubisi.
While Lujabe-Rankoe is among the lucky few that will get a chance to smell her flowers while she is still alive, other National Order recipients will receive their award posthumously.
Lubisi expressed that the reasoning behind bestowing an award posthumously is based on the premise that one’s contribution does not diminish because of death.
“That recognition should continue to be made by our people, to say we recognise the great efforts to get South Africa where it is, and your generation and offspring should feel proud of the work that you would have done even if you are no longer alive,” he says.
With the 2019 recipients already chosen, Lubisi highlighted that the awards are bestowed on an annual basis and anyone above the age of 18 can submit their nominations in the next batch in 2020.
The Sefako Makgatho Presidential Guesthouse in Bryntirion Estate in Pretoria will host the recipients for the investiture ceremony and celebrations. President Cyril Ramaphosa will preside in his capacity as the grand patron of the National Orders.
“We expect that most of the awardees will make it except of cause those who are frail and those who are no longer with us.
“Various people will attend the ceremony over and above the recipients and their relatives. Ministers, Deputy Ministers, some members of the judiciary, some key business people, invitees from the trade union movement, senior officials of government, so we look forward to a great ceremony,” says Lubisi. – SAnews.gov.za