Gospel singer Rebecca Malope and retired constitutional court justice Edwin Cameron were among the people honoured on Thursday when President Cyril Ramaphosa bestowed national orders in recognition of their work in advancing democracy and improving the lives of South Africans.
“This is a roll call of heroes and heroines, of people who have been prepared to devote their talent, their energy, their lives to the affirmation and the advancement of others,” Ramaphosa said.
The orders are divided into five categories, with gold, silver and bronze awards bestowed in each.
The late Isaac William Dyobha Wauchope, regarded as one of the greatest Xhosa poets together with William Gqoba (1840-1888) and Samuel Edward Krune Mqhayi (1875-1945), received gold in the Order of Mendi for bravery bestowed on citizens.
At the age of 65, Wauchope joined the South African Army as the chaplain of the SS Mendi which sank in 1917. As the chaplain, he had the opportunity to board the first lifeboat and save his own life, but chose to put others before him.
In a statement, the presidency said Wauchope boosted morale through poignant words and support in the darkest hour of soldiers who died when the SS Mendi sank.
Renowned late musician Joseph Shabalala, who founded the choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, as well as Dr Raymond Louw, Dr David Maphalla and Professor Sibusiso Cyril Nyembezi received gold in the Order of Ikhamanga, which recognises South Africans who have excelled in the arts, culture, literature, music, journalism and sport.
Malope had to use a wheelchair from a very young age after suffering from an illness and doctors believed she would not walk again. She had a setback in her education because of financial difficulties and was unsuccessful in the 1986 Shell Road to Fame music talent search.
But Malope was determined to break through in the music industry and was the best vocalist in the same competition the following year. This launched her music career. She is now known as the Queen of Gospel and has sold more than two million albums to date.
Retired Judge Cameron was awarded gold in the Order of Boabab — honouring South Africans who have contributed to community service, business and economy, science, medicine and technological innovation — for his contribution to the judicial system and tireless campaigning against the stigma of HIV, and the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual people.
The Order of Luthuli, for those who have contributed to the struggle for democracy, nation-building, building democracy and human rights, justice and peace, as well as the resolution of conflict, was awarded to Thomas Manthata for his participation in ensuring the rights of older people and on land issues, while Bertha Mkhize was given gold for her contribution to the liberation of South Africa. Mkhize also participated in the 1952 defiance campaign.
The Order of the Companions of OR Tambo — given to people from other countries who have shown friendship to South Africa — saw Anthony Dykes (UK), Dr Gail Gerhart (S), Juergen Leihos (Germany) and Malin Sellman (Sweden) honoured with silver.
Sellman was recognised for using art to raise awareness of human rights violations during apartheid.