National Heritage Day

History of South African National Orders and Awards

The birth of a new non-racial and non -sexist democracy in South Africa necessitated a critical review of the system of National Orders. The previous system consisted of one Decoration and four Orders whose symbolic aesthetic was representative of the past.

Seeking to move away from the past, in May 1998, the newly-instituted President's Advisory Council on National Orders was given the task and responsibility to review the system of National Orders and awards.

To implement the task, a technical committee was constituted which embarked on an extensive and inclusive research process that involved public consultations, interviews with stakeholders on a national scale, group discussions focusing on alternative systems, the commissioning of historical research and the gathering of jewellery and medal designers to design new medals through a design brief.

As part of this process, the then Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology in co-operation with the Government Communication and Information System investigated further symbols and symbolism in an attempt to capture the essence of a new aesthetic that will reflect the spirit of a new country. A panel of academics and specialists versed in indigenous symbols and symbolism was asked to identify key factors and elements that denote the collective and inclusive history and experience of Africa with South Africa as the main point of reference. The collective outcome of this process resulted in the commissioning and ultimate design of the new National Orders.

Context

South Africa has taken many strides away from its past of exclusion and discrimination on the basis of sex, colour and creed. The country has been steadily moving forward in a direction that reasserts our humanity. In this march towards humanity, a new culture of human rights and a respect for the dignity of the human spirit have become characteristics of South Africa.

One of the symbolic moments of the exodus from the past was the raising of the new flag in 1994. This moment aptly affirmed the pride and dignity of an unfolding country and a celebration of humanity. Another was the unveiling of a new Coat of Arms on 27 April 2000 that embraced the collective historical essence of the people of the country. In so doing, a new aesthetic that takes consideration of Africa and her symbols became part of the new culture that informs a South African rebirth.

The new National Orders have been conceived in the spirit of that rebirth.