Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Members of Parliament,
Chairperson of the Advisory Council on National Orders, Ms Brigitte Mabandla,
Other Council members present,
Chancellor of the National Orders, Dr Cassius Lubisi,
Members of the diplomatic corps,
Distinguished Recipients of the National Orders, members of their families and friends,
Fellow South Africans,
We gather here as South Africa prepares to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the achievement of freedom and democracy.
It is fitting that we hold this National Orders ceremony � to bestow our country's highest honours on South Africans who have so faithfully discharged their duty to their communities, to their fellow citizens and to their country � on the eve of such a momentous occasion.
It is fitting that we recognise also the contribution of eminent foreign nationals who contributed to the achievement and advancement of our freedom.
Together, the distinguished recipients of the National Orders represent the values, the ideals and the aspirations of the millions of South Africans who stood in line to vote for freedom on the 27th of April 1994.
The National Orders are the highest honour that this country can bestow on its citizens and eminent foreign nationals.
Although they are conferred by the President, the recipients are nominated by members of the public.
These Orders celebrate individuals who have excelled; whose actions and works represent the triumph of the human spirit.
They are men and women driven by purpose and service.
It was out of the need to give practical effect to the values of our Constitution � the achievement of equality, the advancement of human rights and freedom, non-racialism, non-sexism and human dignity � that the national honours were reconfigured in 2002.
We have among us here today South Africans who have excelled in a number of fields and who have made an invaluable contribution to enriching public life: whether it is in the academic, social, cultural, technological, music, artistic, political and other spheres.
We are also joined by the families of those who have unfortunately passed away, to receive on their behalf the recognition they so richly deserve.
I welcome you all.
Those we acknowledge this morning represent endeavour and achievement of immense scale and breadth, and give each and every South African cause to be proud.
Proud of your determination, of your courage, of your unwavering patriotism, and of your persistence in pursuit of the common good.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
There can be no greater human contribution than to lay down one's life to save another.
Although we have among us eminent representatives of our society whose names will be called out in the honours roll, I would like to begin by acknowledging the act of selflessness and courage of nine-year-old Thapelo Tambeni from Soshanguve.
This young boy did not hesitate when he saw his friend fall into a water-filled pit near his home last year.
He managed to pull his friend away from danger, but lost his own life.
Today we posthumously bestow the Order of Mendi for bravery on young Thapelo.
His brave deed will be forever recorded in our country's history, with those of the fallen soldiers on board the SS Mendi, who perished in the sea en route to the Western Front in the First World War.
There is no honour, no award, that can extinguish the pain of the loss of a life so young, in circumstances so tragic.
To Thapelo's family, we wish you strength. Your son was among the bravest of the brave.
The Order of Ikhamanga will today be bestowed on South Africans who have excelled in the fields of the arts, culture, literature, music, journalism and sport.
Whether as athletes, artists, musicians, polemicists, actors or writers, through your work you have greatly enriched the cultural life of the country, in the process fostering social cohesion and serving to rally us around our common identity as South Africans.
The Order of the Baobab recognises South Africans who have contributed to community service, business and economy, science, medicine and technological innovation.
As researchers, scientists and inventors, you have used your talent and expertise to further our understanding of the most pressing questions of the day, and aided our quest to solve some of our greatest challenges.
The Order of Luthuli acknowledges the contribution of South Africans to the struggle for democracy, to nation-building, to human rights, to justice and peace, and to conflict resolution.
As fighters, activists and historians, you played a formative role not just in the struggle for freedom, but also in the construction of a new society founded on the values of equality and non-discrimination.
You recognised, as we do, that the attainment of liberation was just the first step towards realising a South Africa that is just and prosperous, and were prepared to continue to play your part to realise a society free of poverty, want and underdevelopment.
The Order of Mapungubwe recognises those who have accomplished excellence and exceptional achievement to the benefit of South Africa and beyond.
By means of your scholarship, your research and your advocacy, you have elevated South Africa as an incubator of knowledge, innovation and progress on some of the most critical global issues, from nanotechnology to social science to climate change.
Today we also confer the Order of the Companions of OR Tambo on foreign nationals for the friendship and support they have shown to South Africa.
Through their actions they have demonstrated the true meaning of solidarity as Pope John Paul II once defined it.
Solidarity is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people: to the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good, that is to say, to the good of all and every individual, because we are all really responsible for all.
The men and women on whom we confer this honour today forged and sustained the bonds of solidarity with us during our darkest moments, and offered moral and material support to the anti-apartheid struggle.
The man whose name this award carries, Oliver Reginald Tambo, was one of the main drivers of the international movement of solidarity against apartheid.
In bestowing this honour we salute those of our friends in the international community who have consistently embodied the values of compassion, of humanity and of ubuntu: that a person is a person through other people.
Recipients of the National Orders,
In your commitment to the betterment of yourselves and your communities, you have shown that indeed a fundamental difference exists between being a member of society and being a citizen.
A member of society merely exists.
A member of society, though they enjoy the rights afforded by our Constitution, does not take an active part in the political, social and cultural life of the nation.
A citizen, by contrast, assumes the duties of membership of society.
A citizen embraces the concept of civic virtue � of dedication to the common welfare of their community and their country.
A citizen enters fully into the social contract, binding themselves into a collective for the greater good.
A citizen is an agent for change.
We have among us today the very best of such citizens.
You have gained recognition for your dedication to personal, professional and other improvement; to putting yourselves at the service of your country; and for your willingness to do your part to make South Africa a better place.
In doing so you have displayed not self-interest, but selflessness and altruism, the noble values that defined our struggle for liberation.
They continue to inspire us as we strive to deepen our democracy and realise a better South Africa and a better life for all who live in it.
The men and women we honour today have scaled the heights, but we know too well that these do not yet represent the pinnacle of their achievements.
Today your country has honoured you, but it is an honour that should inspire you to set even greater goals, driven by a commitment to lifelong learning and to a constant betterment of the self.
You have shown that as South Africans we can render service to the Republic in many different ways.
I wish to congratulate you, as well as the families of those who are being recognised posthumously.
You have exerted yourselves to the best of your respective abilities, and excelled.
You give us further cause to believe that South Africa's future is bright.
You have done your duty.
You have made your country proud.
You fully deserve the highest praise of being called citizens of South Africa and citizens of the world.
Under the powers vested in me by 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 O R Tambo.
The recipients shall henceforth be honoured as esteemed Members of the Orders.
The people of South Africa salute them all!
I thank you.
Source: The Presidency Republic of South Africa