Zuma's freedom honours

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

As dawn broke on Sunday, April 27, 2014, citizens throughout the country went about their daily routine. Families gathered at the breakfast table; others went about their morning exercise or packed their car to visit loved ones.

Twenty years ago the scene was very different. On April 27, 1994, the air was thick with anticipation. Millions of South Africans were to cast their vote for the first time.

This was to mark the historic new dawn of democratically elected government. Since then, April 27 is celebrated as Freedom Day. This year’s celebration was even more poignant as we marked 20 years of Freedom. Also, it was the first time we celebrated without our first democratically elected president and icon Nelson Mandela. As a nation we are forever indebted for the selfless sacrifice and courage of Nelson Mandela and countless others who laid the foundation for our democracy.  

The fruit of their labour are evident in our democracy that is admired the world over. We have emerged from apartheid oppression as a nation united in our diversity.  However, we must never forget that our freedom was not free, it was hard fought and required untold sacrifice.

Our history and the stories of heroes and heroines must never be allowed to fade or be forgotten. The words of author George Orwell are a stark reminder of the dangers of forgetting ones history: “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”We owe it to future generation to remember the contributions of our fallen and still living heroes and heroines to what we today have as a country.

In a young democracy such as ours, paying tribute to heroes of our nation both past and present is essential.  In 2002 a set of new National Orders were unveiled to honour the contributions of South Africans and eminent foreign nationals.

On Sunday, April 27, President Jacob Zuma awarded National Orders at an investiture ceremony at the Union Buildings.  

National Orders are the highest awards that our country bestows on its citizens and eminent foreign nationals who have contributed towards the advancement of democracy and who have made a significant impact on improving the lives of South Africans.

They also recognise the contributions made by individuals towards building a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa as envisaged in our Constitution. South Africa’s National Orders are conferred under the following categories:

  • The Order of Mendi for Bravery recognises South African citizens who have performed acts of bravery.   
  • The Order of Ikhamanga recognises South African citizens who have excelled in the fields of arts, culture, literature, music, journalism and sport.
  • The Order of the Baobab recognises South African citizens who have contributed to-098community service, business and economy, science, medicine and technological innovation.
  • The Order of Luthuli recognises South African citizens who have contributed to the struggle for democracy, nation-building, building democracy and human rights, justice and peace as well as for the resolution of conflict.
  • The Order of Mapungubwe recognises South Africans who have accomplished excellence and exceptional achievement to the benefit of South Africa and beyond.
  • The Order of the Companions of OR Tambo recognises eminent foreign nationals for friendship shown to South Africa. It is therefore an Order of peace, cooperation and active expression of solidarity and support.

President Jacob Zuma bestowed the orders to a diverse list of recipients, including some household names, and many others who are not so well-known.  However, all 54 recipients are united by their commitment to the spirit of freedom and human endeavour.

To single out recipients is a futile task, as they all embody our democracy.  However, it would be remiss not to mention liberation stalwarts Frances Baard and Ruth First who were posthumously awarded the Order of Luthuli in Gold.

It is befitting that our Olympic Champions Mokgadi Caster Semenya and Cameron van der Burgh received the Order of Ikhamanga in Bronze and Silver respectively, for their outstanding performances on the international sporting stage.

The Order of the Companions of OR Tambo in Silver was awarded to luminaries; Lord Richard Samuel Attenborough, Danny Glover and Quincy Jones for their unflinching commitment in the fight against apartheid.

Without doubt every one of the 54 recipients is remarkable in their own right. Their accomplishments are a testament to the human spirit.

Phumla Williams is Acting CEO of the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS)


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