Women who move worlds
The national orders bestowed by President Zuma this week honoured 10 women who’ve led notable lives
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.
ORDER OF THE BAOBAB
Rosina Phakeng, Marina Nompinti Maponya
ORDER OF LUTHULI
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
ORDER OF MENDI
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
THE ORDER OF THE COMPANIONS OF OR TAMBO
Noureddine Djoudi, Maria Petronella Adriana Kint
THE ORDER OF IKHAMANGA
Dr Benedict Wallet Vilakazi, Laurika Rauch, Thomas Hasani Chauke, Sylvia “Magogo” Glasser, Marguerite Poland
THE ORDER MAPUNGUBWE
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