Women who move worlds

The na­tional or­ders be­stowed by Pres­i­dent Zuma this week hon­oured 10 women who’ve led no­table lives

CityPress - - News - NTOMBI­ZODWA MAKHOBA ntombi­zodwa@city­press.co.za

Aside from their gen­der, it is of­ten ar­gued that fe­male lead­ers don’t have much else in com­mon. Some have brought peace to trou­bled lands while others have suf­fered at the hands of bru­tal regimes and lived. They come from political po­si­tions rang­ing from arch­con­ser­va­tive to ul­tra­left­ist, and rep­re­sent all the world’s re­li­gions. So what did Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma have in mind when he be­stowed hon­ours on strug­gle icon Win­nie Madik­izela-Man­dela, Pres­i­dent of Chile Verónica Michelle Bachelet Je­ria and Pro­fes­sor He­len Rees, founder and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Wits Re­pro­duc­tive Health and HIV In­sti­tute?

These were some of the 10 out­stand­ing women hon­oured by the pres­i­dent at the 2016 Na­tional Or­ders Awards Cer­e­mony in Pre­to­ria on Thurs­day.

They con­sti­tuted nearly a third of the 32 re­spected in­di­vid­u­als who South Africa ex­pressed grat­i­tude to for “demon­strat­ing ex­cep­tional ser­vice to hu­man­ity”, ac­cord­ing to Pres­i­dent Zuma.

The cer­e­mony took place just af­ter Free­dom Day, which marked the day 22 years ago when South Africans closed the chap­ter on in­sti­tu­tion­alised racism and re­pres­sion and be­gan a jour­ney to­wards a united, non­ra­cial, non­sex­ist and demo­cratic South Africa.

Zuma said: “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.”

Madik­izela-Man­dela, Rees and Bachelet Je­ria charted their jour­neys and pushed through the glass ceil­ing in their re­spec­tive fields be­cause they had the brains, the de­sire and the per­se­ver­ance to lead. Madik­izela-Man­dela was awarded the Or­der of Luthuli and Rees the Or­der of the Baobab, which is awarded to South African cit­i­zens for dis­tin­guished ser­vice in the fields of busi­ness, the econ­omy, science and medicine and for tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tion and com­mu­nity ser­vice.


The ail­ing Madik­izela-Man­dela (79) could not at­tend and her award was re­ceived by grand­daugh­ter Zoleka Man­dela. Fondly known as the “Mother of the Na­tion”, she was hon­oured as the coura­geous woman who be­came a sym­bol of the strug­gle against apartheid.

She was reg­u­larly de­tained by the apartheid gov­ern­ment, tor­tured and sub­jected to house ar­rest. She was kept un­der sur­veil­lance, held in solitary con­fine­ment for more than a year and ban­ished to a re­mote town.

She emerged as a lead­ing op­po­nent of apartheid dur­ing the years of her hus­band’s im­pris­on­ment (from Au­gust 1963 to Fe­bru­ary 1990).

She went on to be­come a politi­cian who held sev­eral gov­ern­ment po­si­tions and headed the ANC Women’s League. She served on the ANC’s na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee.

In her book 491 Days: Pris­oner Num­ber 1323/69, she broke her si­lence and re­vealed the treat­ment she had en­dured in prison.

She also wrote how, in 1969, po­lice stormed her home in Or­lando, Soweto and de­tained her in the pres­ence of her two young daugh­ters.

Pro­fes­sor He­len Rees

Rees re­ceived the Or­der of the Baobab for cham­pi­oning pub­lic health­care, es­pe­cially for chil­dren and moth­ers. She was recog­nised, in par­tic­u­lar, for her out­stand­ing con­tri­bu­tion to the fight against HIV/Aids.

Rees stayed on top in a male-dom­i­nated in­dus­try and re­mains one of the few suc­cess­ful fe­male sci­en­tists in South Africa. She is the founder and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Re­pro­duc­tive Health and HIV In­sti­tute of the Uni­ver­sity of the Wit­wa­ter­srand.

Rees re­ceived her med­i­cal de­gree and a mas­ter’s in so­cial and political sciences from Cam­bridge Uni­ver­sity, and in 2002 be­came an alum­nus of the Har­vard Busi­ness School. It’s not the first time Rees has been hon­oured. In 2004 she be­came the first woman to be awarded the South African Dis­tin­guished Sci­en­tist award for her out­stand­ing con­tri­bu­tion to im­prov­ing the qual­ity of life of women. She was also given a life­time achieve­ment award by Aman­itare, a Pan-African NGO ded­i­cated to the rights of African women and chil­dren.

Verónica Michelle Bachelet Je­ria

Pres­i­dent Bachelet Je­ria, the head of state of the Repub­lic of Chile in South Amer­ica, sent an apol­ogy for her in­abil­ity to re­ceive the award in per­son due to mat­ters of state. She was awarded the Or­der of the Com­pan­ions of OR Tambo in Gold in ab­sen­tia for her ex­cep­tional con­tri­bu­tion to the fight for democ­racy and free­dom in her coun­try and glob­ally.

The Chilean So­cial­ist Party politi­cian has been the pres­i­dent of Chile since March 11 2014. She pre­vi­ously served as pres­i­dent from 2006 to 2010, and was the first woman in her coun­try to do so.

A physi­cian who has stud­ied mil­i­tary strat­egy, she was ap­pointed the first ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the newly cre­ated UN En­tity for Gen­der Equal­ity and the Em­pow­er­ment of Women.

In De­cem­ber 2013, Bachelet Je­ria was re-elected as pres­i­dent of Chile with more than 62% of the vote, bet­ter­ing the 53.5% she ob­tained in 2006, though she only took of­fice again in 2014.

She is the first per­son since 1932 to win the pres­i­dency of Chile twice in com­pet­i­tive elec­tions.


Rosina Phak­eng, Ma­rina Nomp­inti Maponya


Late Suli­man Saloo­jee, Brian Fran­cis Bishop, Dr Si­mon Gqubule, Mac Ma­haraj, Win­nie Madik­izela-Man­dela, Mary Thipe, Amy Ri­et­stein Thorn­ton, John Zikhali, Msizi Har­ri­son Dube, Cleopas Madoda Nsi­bande


Hermanus Loots, Ulysses Modise, Joseph Nduli, Ndal­iso Ng­cayiya, Maqashu Leonard Mdingi, Siza­kele Sigx­ashe, Ma­jor Gen­eral Peter Le­sego Tshikare, Gen­eral Jac­que­line “Jackie” Sed­ibe, Peter Sello Mo­tau, Sam Ntuli


Noured­dine Djoudi, Maria Petronella Adri­ana Kint


Dr Bene­dict Wal­let Vilakazi, Lau­rika Rauch, Thomas Hasani Chauke, Sylvia “Ma­gogo” Glasser, Mar­guerite Poland


Zwe­lakhe Sisulu


Zoleka Man­dela stands in for her mother, Win­nie Madik­izela-Man­dela, who is ill

Pro­fes­sor He­len Rees re­ceives her award from Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma

Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma be­stows the Or­der of the Com­pan­ion of OR Tambo in Gold to a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Chilean Pres­i­dent Michelle Bachelet Je­ria

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