By Director – General in The Presidency and Chancellor of the National Orders Cassius Lubisi
When President Jacob Zuma read out the list of recipients for the 2016 National Orders, names were transformed into human stories of heroism and untold sacrifice.
In total, 32 recipients from South Africa and abroad were awarded for their exceptional service to humanity.
Although each of the 32 is unique in their own way, the passion to work towards a better country and world runs through all of them.
They are irrefutable proof that activism works when it is linked to a just cause. But beyond that, they have shown that true activism amounts to more than just a campaign on social media, a petition or a catchy hashtag.
At its core, activism means placing the needs of others first and getting your hands dirty - and often demands great personal sacrifice. Activists are engaged in their cause; they work within communities and never stop, no matter the obstacles.
Our history abounds with such people and their inspiring stories.
I have no doubt that, in time, these distinguished people will join the legion of heroes and heroines from our nation and beyond who dared to stand up and make a difference, and will inspire future generations to do the same.
Our national orders celebrate the inclusiveness and diversity of a democratic South Africa and embody all that is good about our country.
These recipients stand as a reminder that ordinary people can rise to become leaders and make extraordinary contributions. I join the nation in applauding their exceptional achievement.
They embody the spirit of freedom; they represent the best of us and include heroes from our painful past, as well as current guardians of science, the arts, business, social justice and freedom and democracy.
During his address to those notable citizens and foreign nationals who assembled in Pretoria on Thursday, President Jacob Zuma explained the importance of ordinary men and women working to make the world a better place.
His words should act as a rallying call, a reminder that we all have a role to play in building our nation. It may be a great or minor role, it may be heroic or it may help in ensuring social justice, but every contribution counts.
Among this year’s recipients of the Order of Mendi were 10 stalwarts of the liberation struggle and freedom fighters. This award goes to any South African who has performed extraordinary acts of bravery anywhere in the world, who put his or her life in danger or ultimately lost it in trying to save the lives of others.
The stories of Hermanus Loots, Ulysses Modise, Joseph Nduli and others are part of the folklore from our unpleasant past. They were part of the Luthuli Detachment - named after ANC’s President-General, Chief Albert Luthuli - spearhead a joint operation by guerrillas of the ANC and the Zimbabwean African People’s Union, who were dispatched on July 31 1967 to infiltrate South Africa.
Sadly, these awards were all made posthumously.
Likewise with the Order of Mendi award to Sam Ntuli, who paid the ultimate price for his tireless work at promoting peace in Thokoza in the East Rand during the horrific state - sponsored violence that raged in the 1980’s and early 1990’s.
To single out the remarkable achievements of all 32 recipients is an impossible, but they stand for all to see. Their stories are a reminder that although we have come a long way in transforming our nation, more must still be done.
We dare not rest until we have built a country where opportunities are available for all, and where all South Africans are afforded a chance to better their lives.
Government joins all South Africans in saluting the recipients. We will never forget their sacrifices.