Address by President Nelson Mandela at the presentation of National Orders, Pretoria

27 February 1997

Chancellor of Orders;
Distinguished Guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the qualities of those it honours, a nation reveals its heart and its soul It defines the memory of its history and its deepest hopes and aspirations.

Today national orders will be bestowed on four citizens, at this first presentation ceremony under a democratic government.

Dr. Beyers Naude, Walter Sisulu, Helen Suzman and Professor Richard van der Ross join three others who on special occasions have been honoured in the same way: Archbishop Desmond Tutu; Enoch Sontonga; and former Chief Justice Michael Corbett.

These seven South Africans come from widely diverse backgrounds and different occupations: religion and education; politics, law and the arts. In affirming their contribution we affirm the addition that each of these fields of endeavour makes to the rich fabric of our nation. In singling out these individuals we celebrate the values which they have exemplified.

A common thread in the rich variety of their lives is the quality of courage. It is a courage born of the yearning for freedom; of hatred of oppression, injustice and inequity whether the victim be oneself or another; a fortitude that draws its strength from the conviction that no person can be free while others are unfree.

In such strivings on the part of those who were New Patriots before their time, lie the roots of our Rainbow Nation. These are the qualities we need today as we harness our country's energies and resources for reconstruction and development.

We are mindful that the form of the awards themselves derives from the era which have left behind.

It is natural that we should ask ourselves if the time has not come for our nation to create new national orders - orders which reflect our cherished vision of a new society founded on respect and love for each and every citizen and on the pledge of a better life for all.

In keeping with our commitment to democracy, such a renewal of our national honours should be the product of the creative participation of our people.

It should draw on their pride in the new nation which they are building in their daily activities: at work and on the sportsfield; in worship and in study; in music and dance; in uplifting communities and creating the resources to abolish poverty.

Ladies and Gentlemen;

Although it is right and proper that we do make these changes, nothing can detract from our celebration of those who have brought such honour to our country.

In the same way that our people have transformed this country from a hallmark of injustice and conflict into a symbol of peace and unity in diversity, democracy's recipients of this award endow it with a new and noble meaning.

It will now be my great honour and privilege to bestow these national orders for meritorious service in the general public interest.

Issued by: Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website