Remembering heroes past and present

01 May 2013

We will never forget the unbridled joy and hope we felt as our nation was born 19 years ago, or the pride we felt as our national sporting heroes excelled and won an astounding haul of medals at the 2012 London Olympic Games. We still look back in wonder at the feeling of accomplishment when we were jointly awarded the hosting of the Square Kilometre Array with Australia.

In this past month that marked the birth of our nation, on 27 April 1994, we took time to reflect with great admiration on the legacy of those who sacrificed, often at great personal cost so that we could live in a free country. We also celebrated the achievements of our present day heroes and heroines.

Nations are built on the collective effort of citizens from all walks of life. Every one of us plays a role in strengthening the social fabric and in making our nation greater. However, there are individuals whose contributions to society are at times extraordinary and often selfless.

They come from all walks of life and have touched our lives in different ways, but in all of them a hero or heroine resides. On Freedom Day we paid homage to them and eminent foreign nationals who contributed to the betterment of South Africa in various ways.

Every one of these individuals has indeed played a part in building our nation, and in making South Africa great. Their contributions both past and present will never be forgotten, and to some we owe a debt that can never be repaid.

On Freedom Day, Saturday 27 April, President Jacob Zuma awarded National Orders to 33 South Africans and five eminent foreign nationals at the Union Buildings. When announcing the recipients a few days prior to this momentous occasion, the Chancellor of the National Orders, Dr Cassius Lubisi noted: “This is the 19th Investiture ceremony since the inception of the National Orders, contributing towards unity, reconciliation and building the nation.”

National Orders are the highest accolade that South Africa, through our President, bestows on citizens and eminent foreign nationals who have contributed towards the advancement of democracy and who made a significant impact on improving the lives of all South Africans.

The National Orders also recognise the contributions made by individuals who contributed and continue to contribute to a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa as envisaged in our Constitution.

This year marks 19 years since we emerged from the darkness of apartheid oppression and became a free nation on 27 April 1994. We must be forever mindful that the freedom we celebrate today was not free, it came at huge personal cost to countless South Africans.

Freedom Month provided us with an excellent opportunity to remember those who made sacrifices beyond measure and dedicated their lives so that we could enjoy our freedom today. Speaking at the National Orders’ ceremony in 2012 President Zuma stated: “Our government since 2010 consciously made a decision to hold the National Orders Awards Ceremony on National Freedom Day in order to align and link them with our Freedom Day celebrations, and properly honour all those who have made sacrifices and a meaningful contribution to our freedom, at national as well as on the international level.”

Our national orders celebrate the inclusiveness and diversity of a democratic South Africa, our people and our place in the African continent - in essence, the spirit of the new South Africa.

This year’s recipients are indeed a reflection of all that is great and good about our nation and humanity. We stand in awe of their exceptional achievement and extraordinary contributions. The 2013 recipients of the Order of Mendi, the Order of Ikhamanga, the Order of Baobab, the Order of Luthuli, the Order of Mapungubwe and the Order of the Companions of OR Tambo embody the spirit of freedom and human endeavour.

These 38 persons represent the best of us, they include selfless heroes from our painful past and current champions of freedom and democracy. Addressing the 2013 receipents of the National Orders President Zuma said: “We are today honouring individuals who walked the extra mile to improve the lot of humanity and who have contributed to elevating our country to great heights among other nations.”

It is befitting that Alfred Duma, Riot Makhomanisi Mkhwanazi and Cletus Mzimela received the Order of Mendi for bravery for their contribution in bringing about our liberation. Unsung heroes were also honoured, such as Nontsikelelo Qwelane, South Africa's oldest known teacher at the age of 92. The well-known activist Reverend Jesse Jackson was awarded the Order of the Companions of OR Tambo for his excellent contribution to the fight against apartheid.

In the words of President Zuma: “Today we are honouring men and women who made a selfless contribution to the attainment of the freedom we are enjoying today locally.  Their courage and sacrifice is an inspiration and an unyielding reminder to the nation never to take this hard-won freedom for granted.”  

President Zuma noted that education is the primary instrument of freedom and praised the dedication of Nontsikelelo Qwelane. He added: “We are also honouring achievers in various social fields. We honour with pride, our achievers in science, medicine, technology, sports and recreation, the arts and nation building.”

To try and single out the remarkable achievements of all 38 recipients would be impossible. Their accomplishments speak volumes on their own, we salute them, we honour them, they have made us proud.   

Next year we will be celebrating 20 years of freedom and democracy. We call on South Africans to already add their voices and nominate their deserving compatriots for National Orders. The closing date for nominations is 21 July 2013 and forms can be downloaded at www.thepresidency.gov.za. These heroes and heroines belong to all of us, let us honour their legacy and build on it.

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