South Africa has, for the first time, presented national awards to honor those who have contributed to the country. The recipients at the colorful ceremony in Pretoria included former president Nelson Mandela who did his signature "Madiba jive" after receiving his award.
The highest honor, the Order of Mapungubwe, Platinum Class, was conferred on retired president Nelson Mandela for his exceptional contribution to ending apartheid and to peace and justice at home and abroad. Mr. Mandela said he hoped his award would inspire many people to greater efforts for their communities.
Among those who received the next highest honor was another former president. F.W. de Klerk was honored for his courage in dismantling apartheid and leading the country during the negotiations which led to South Africa's first democratic elections in 1994. Mr. de Klerk said his award honored all those who supported him in his efforts to end apartheid.
The Companions of O.R. Tambo Order, for foreign nationals who have rendered exceptional service to South Africa, was awarded to former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda and posthumously to assassinated Swedish Prime Minster Olaf Palme and India's Mohandas Gandhi.
Gandhi lived in South Africa from 1893 until his return to India in 1915. It was here that he first developed and put into practice his philosophy of Satyagraha or passive resistance against the treatment of Indians and blacks by India's then-colonial government. The award was accepted by his great-grandson, Satish Dhupelia, one of many of Mr. Gandhi's descendants who still reside in this country.
Those honored with the Order of the Baobab range from trade unionists, to artists, to community workers to the country's highest judge.
Deputy President Jacob Zuma told national television the new awards are for anyone who shines in serving South Africa and its people.
"They are really South African and very unique and also the people who are gathered here range from real ordinary people to the most outstanding personalities. I think that is an indication that South Africa is ready to acknowledge all South Africans whatever their levels, whatever they do."
The new awards were unveiled in April by President Thabo Mbeki. They are meant to reflect the changes in South Africa since 1994.
The awards' names have special meanings in South Africa. The Mapungubwe were an ancient and technologically advanced South African civilization; the baobab tree is a symbol of mystery, vitality and endurance; and, O.R. Tambo the former leader of the African National Congress, led the international campaign to declare apartheid a crime against humanity.