Pretoria - President Kgalema Motlanthe has conferred national orders to 28 heroes and heroines who have made outstanding contributions to nation building in South Africa.
Addressing the recipients of the National Orders at a ceremony at the Union Buildings on Friday, President Motlanthe said it was because of the efforts of such people that South Africans were now able to live and develop in a world of freedom.
He described the recipients as beacons that must guide the nation in building a society that is founded on the high ideals of freedom, justice, equality and human solidarity.
"All these distinguished members of our national orders are the guardians of ubuntu, handmaidens of our liberty and defenders of shared human dignity.
"... Their footprints are the undesirable signposts that indicate our route of march, even for generations that have still to emerge out of the distant mist of future time."
The orders included the Order of Baobab, the Order of Luthuli and the Order of OR Tambo, which were conferred in gold, silver and bronze.
"The honours that we bestow today tell the story of what and who we are, of what and who we shall be. These are our National Orders, the symbols that represent the nobility of human endeavour, constituting a hall of fame that will, today be enriched by the new and distinguished members," said Mr Motlanthe.
Among the recipients of these prestigious awards were Roelf Meyer, Cyril Ramaphosa, Andimba Toivo ya Toivo, Denis Goldberg, Marcelino dos Santos and Kader Asmal.
Speaking to BuaNews following the ceremony, prominent politician, and lawyer Roelf Meyer said it was an honour to receive the Order of the Baobab in silver.
"It's just a wonderful honour to be present here today, to observe this, to experience it. The honour actually goes to all South Africans," he said.
Mr Meyer said he thought that great progress had been made since the country's first democratic elections in 1994.
"I think we've made tremendous progress. Its been 15 years that we entered the phase of democracy in South Africa and I think that one can expect that it will take us some time to complete the transformation of South Africa," explained Mr Meyer.
Veteran negotiator Cyril Ramaphosa who also received the order of the Baobab in silver said he felt pleased and humbled by the award. "It's a joyous day," said Mr Ramaphosa.
He said though South Africa had achieved a lot, much more still needed to be done.
"In the past 15 years what we have achieved could never ever have been dreamt of in terms of depth, its birth and its impact. We still have a long way to go. There are still many milestones we still have to cover.
"But we've got a very solid foundation and the past few years are a great testimony to that because we can see it, we can feel it. Our people are better off from the nightmare of apartheid that they lived under."
Namibian Freedom Fighter Andimba Toivo ya Toivo who was honoured with the Order of the Companions of OR Tambo in silver said the award had not only been conferred on him but also to the people of Namibia.
"It's not only conferred on me but the also the people of Namibia and in particular those who were with me on Robben Island," he explained.
The first national orders were awarded seven years ago and over the years, several local and international dignitaries have been bestowed with the country's highest orders.
These are awarded to individuals that have played a significant role in the country's democracy in various fields from the arts to politics.
Since the achievement of democracy in 1994, men and women from all walks of life have been honoured for their contribution to peace, nation building and human rights for the accomplishment of excellence and exceptional achievement, as well as for distinguished contributions to the South African nation.
Orders include the order of the Baobab, Ikhamanga, SS Mendi, Luthuli and the Companions of OR Tambo.