President Zuma salutes ailing Madikizela-Mandela at awards ceremony
President Jacob Zuma wished ailing anti-apartheid icon Winnie Madikizela-Mandela a speedy recovery on Thursday, as he bestowed National Orders in Pretoria.
“Our people salute her. She is currently unwell and we wish her a speedy recovery,” Zuma said at the prestigious awards ceremony hosted at the Sefako Makgatho Presidential Guesthouse in Pretoria.
Zuma said a courageous Madikizela-Mandela had endured periods of prison detention and banning orders by the apartheid government from 1958 and through subsequent years.
This included a nine-year banishment period in Brandfort in the Free State.
“She was not deterred by the persecution. She became a formidable force, facing the enemy head on, in the pursuit of freedom,” said Zuma.
In absentia, Madikizela-Mandela was one of the recipients, conferred the Order of Luthuli, reserved for South Africans who have made meaningful contributions in areas including the struggle for freedom, democracy, human rights, nation-building, justice, peace and conflict resolution.
An equivalent award was also bestowed on struggle veteran and former presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj.
“The award also goes to a struggle veteran who served a long prison term in Robben Island, many years of service in exile and in underground operations in the country, Mr Mac Maharaj. He has also served in the post-apartheid government as Minister and also as presidential advisor in the fourth and fifth administrations, until his retirement in 2015,” said Zuma.
The award was received by a representative of Maharaj.
Also in absentia, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet Jeria was awarded the Order of the Companions of OR Tambo.
“The President receives the award in gold for her exceptional contribution to the fight for democracy and freedom in her country and globally,” said Zuma.
“She has sent a special message apologising for her inability to accept this award in person, due to matters of state.”
The Order of the Companions of OR Tambo is awarded to foreign dignitaries who actively promote freedom, justice, human rights and democracy, through active support and expression of solidarity for the struggle against apartheid colonialism.
The National Orders are the highest awards that a country, through its president, bestows on its citizens and eminent foreign nationals.
Zuma told the gathering on Thursday that South Africa had made significant strides since the dawn of democracy in 1994.
“We reiterate that South Africa is a much better place to live in now than it was before 1994. We thank all South Africans, as well as our friends from all over Africa and the world, for their contribution to making our country the success that it has been since 1994,” said Zuma.
The event was attended by numerous cabinet ministers and senior government officials. Foreign dignitaries and diplomats were also present. Prominent Zimbabwean business mogul James Makamba was also among the guests.
“We have gathered to honour men and women from this country and abroad who have demonstrated exceptional service to humanity,” said Zuma.
“We confer the Order of Mendi, the Order of Ikhamanga, the Order of the Baobab, the Order of Luthuli, the Order of Mapungubwe and the Order of the Companions of OR Tambo to distinguished persons who have demonstrated that it takes ordinary men and women to make our country and the world a better place.”
He said it was significant that the ceremony took place a day after the country’s Freedom Day commemorations, on which South Africans “closed the chapter on institutionalised racism and repression, and began a journey towards a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa”.
Zuma said the recipients of this year’s National Orders had each contributed in some way to the attainment of equality, freedom and democracy.
“By the power vested in me in terms of Section 84 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, I now confer the Order of Mendi, the Order of Ikhamanga, the Order of the Baobab, the Order of Luthuli, the Order of Mapungubwe and the Order of the Companions of OR Tambo to the distinguished persons indicated.
“They shall henceforth be honoured as esteemed Members of the Orders,” Zuma said before he bestowed the awards to the recipients or their representatives. – African News Agency (ANA)