Cape Town - Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu paid tribute to the thousands of people who had fought for a better South Africa as he accepted the Order of Vasco Nunez de Balboa under the Great Cross Degree from Panama.
"What is a leader without followers," said Tutu, who was honoured for his role in the anti-apartheid struggle, together with the Deputy Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Marius Fransman, who was honoured for his efforts to forge links with countries across the world.
The order, decreed by the President of Panama, was presented to Tutu and Fransman by Panama's Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Francisco Alvarez de Soto on Thursday in Cape Town.
Tutu pointed out that a leader is only a leader because of followers, and added that he received the award on behalf of the many other South Africans that had supported his cause.
"It's the many, many, many people, many of them are anonymous, but the people who were up in the frontline who accepted our leadership who indeed should be honoured," he said.
Tutu joked about his age by saying that he had recently attended the naming of a school in the Netherlands in his honour, after the school celebrated its 400th anniversary and that a small girl had approached him and asked him whether he had been around when the school had opened.
Tutu said he was pleased in terms of what the award meant for the relationship between Panama and South Africa.
Fransman said it was a humbling experience accepting the award, given that others such as President Jimmy Carter had also been awarded the order.
He dedicated the award to all those across the world, particularly in Africa, who were struggling as well as those that had fought against colonialism and apartheid.
He hoped that improved relations between South Africa and Panama would benefit the two countries in the areas of trade, sport and arts and culture - and in particular the poor in these two countries.
Fransman said his counterpart, De Soto, had informed him that discussions he had held with the departments of Public Enterprises and Home Affairs were quite fruitful.
De Soto described Tutu as a modern-day hero, who had spent most of his life working tirelessly to forge equal rights and said the people of Panama saw Tutu as an inspiration.
"Panama recognises in you two, true friends and thank you for accepting this distinction and await you with open arms if you decide to pay a visit in the near future," he said.