She was presented with the award for highlighting women's and children's issues at the Turquoise Harmony Institute's Ubuntu awards on Thursday. Machel arrived after the beginning of the ceremony, coming straight from the undisclosed hospital where she was visiting her husband.
She thanked the country and the world for the well-wishes for the former president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
"I want to take this opportunity to thank every single citizen of this country, of Africa, of the world who has been praying and sending their best wishes to Madiba. Thank you very much for lifting him up. God is listening," she said.
She dedicated the award to those who had influenced her. "I would like to put this into contex," said Machel. "Any award is not about the individual. It is about a journey. In my case, a journey in which millions of people have touched my life.
"From the time I was minister of education, I learned to experience the joy of a child discovering the joy of learning. I shared the joy with them.
"I also shared pain when children for no reason are caught up in the pain of conflict. I cried with mothers. I cried with the children themselves. It made me very humble."
She describe activism as "raising voices for those who do not have an opportunity to speak to those who hold power".
She went on to describe situations where children were abused by those in their communities "by adults whose first reaction should be to smile at a child, protect a child, to care for a child.
"I take this award on behalf of those women and children."
Sanef takes media award
Each year, the Turquoise Harmony Instutute hands out awards to individuals and organisations whose work has upheld principles of dialogue and tolerance.
The Instutute promotes the work of Turkish cleric Fetullah Gulen, and has set up a number of schools and educational trusts in South Africa.
Other awards of the evening included the Academia Award, which was given to the University of the Free State's Vice Chancellor Jonathan Jansen. He sent a video message of thanks, in which he stressed the importance of bringing an end to conflict in the world, and dedicated his award to peacemakers such as Albert Luthuli and Nelson Mandela – "peacemakers – people who understood deeply that there are alternatives to simply to killing each other”.
He went on to stress the importance of education in promoting dialogue and negotiation. "We have to make sure that every student, every young person, understands that their role is to bring peace and justice through alternatives to conflict and war," he said.
The media award was given to the South African National Editors Forum (Sanef). Sanef chairperson and Mail & Guardian editor Nic Dawes joked about being given the award in front of an audience which included many of the political figures that the media had criticised.
“I see many of you out there who my colleagues have annoyed personally and politically in recent weeks and months," he said. "You may be saying to yourselves, what is going on in the heads of the Turqoise Harmony Institute that they gave this award to the editors of South Africa’s print, broadcast and digital platforms?"
He highlighted the role of the media in creating dialogue and trust in a democracy.
“Sometimes it is more important to build trust than it is to agree about everything. And the work that Sanef does is about doing exactly that, so that we leave a conversation understanding each other a bit better.
“In a paradoxical way, sometimes the most difficult things the press does – the noisy stuff, the controversial stuff – helps us to build a space of transparency, of accountability, and ultimately of understanding."
He referenced the recent events in the Central African Republic, and emphasised the importance of doing this across borders as well as across the country itself.
The education award was given to Gauteng provinicial minister for education, Barbara Creecy, who, in her acceptance speech, dedicated the award to the class of 2012, who she called “the future leaders of us all”.
SHOUT SA was recognised for its commitment to community service. Singers Danny K and Kabelo collected the award on behalf of the organisation.
The sports award was given to the four members of the South African rowing team who won the gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics – James Thompson, Matthew Brittain, John Smith and Sizwe Ndlovu.
Artist James Webb was recognised for encouraging dialogue and harmony with his artwork entitled "Prayer," in which he records and collects the prayers and worship rituals of various religions practised in places the work is exhibited.