South Africa’s national orders


National orders are the highest awards that the country, through its president, can bestow on its citizens or eminent foreigners. They are usually presented on Freedom Day, 27 April.


Evolution of the orders


With the advent of democracy in South Africa, the country reviewed its national orders to better reflect the the spirit of a non-racial, non-sexist democracy where a culture of human rights prevails.

In 1998, the Presidential Advisory Council on National Orders was tasked with revising the orders. Intensive consultations with academics and specialists were held, design proposals were invited, and – for the first set of three new national orders – those of Gold Mametja (see on the right below) were finally chosen.




Six new orders have been created. The first set of three, established in 2002, are: the Order of Mapungubwe for exceptional achievement, the Order of the Baobab for distinguished service, and the Order of the Companions of OR Tambo, for friendship shown to South Africa by foreign dignitaries or heads of state.

The second set of three, first awarded in 2003, were created to recognise some of the extraordinary things done by ordinary South Africans, and include an order for achievement in democracy and nation building; an order for achievement in the creative and performing arts, journalism and sport; and a decoration for bravery.




Order of
Mapungubwe (lapel rosette)

Order of Mapungubwe


The Order of Mapungubwe represents ingenuity and excellence, and is awarded to South African citizens for excellence and exceptional achievement, in three classes: platinum, gold and bronze.

The Kingdom of Mapungubwe existed a millennium ago in the northern part of what is now South Africa. The kingdom had a developed mining, metallurgy and agricultural industry, and traded with countries as far afield as China. Various elements in the Order’s design symbolise new horizons, creativity and excellence, and human resourcefulness.

Order of
the Baobab (lapel rosette)


Order of the Baobab


The Order of the Baobab represents exceptional contribution, and is awarded to South African citizens for distinguished service that goes beyond the call of duty in the following categories: struggle for democracy; building democracy and human rights; nation-building; peace and security; journalism, literature, arts, culture, sports and music; business and the economy; science, medicine and technological innovation; and community service.

The Order of the Baobab is awarded in three classes: gold, silver and bronze.

The Baobab, a tropical African tree, is symbolic of endurance, tolerance, community and longevity. It has long been a valued symbol of vitality, a tree endowed with both magical and functional properties: it provides bark for cloth and rope, fruit, fuel and other useful products. The distinctive Baobab, characterised by its stature and appearance as an “upside down” tree, has for centuries been used as a meeting place for communities.

Various elements in the Order’s design symbolise longevity, community support, contribution, and prosperity in organic unity.

Order of
the Companions of OR Tambo (walking stick)


Order of the Companions of OR Tambo


This Order is awarded to foreign heads of state and other eminent foreign persons for friendship to South Africa. The Order is awarded in three classes: gold, silver and bronze.

The awards in the first two classes include four elements – a walking stick, a neck badge, a miniature and a lapel rosette – and in the third class, three elements: a neck badge, a miniature and a lapel rosette.

Former African National Congress leader OR Tambo played a pivotal role in building the international anti-apartheid movement. He set up the first missions of the then- banned ANC in Egypt, Morocco, Ghana and the United Kingdom.

Symbols reflected in this order include the Majola or mole snake (symbolic in African mythology for friendship, protection and active support; the walking stick (symbolic of support and commitment); and the universal yin and yang symbol (connoting a meeting point for diverse spiritual energies).

SAinfo reporter, incorporating material from the South African Yearbook

Reviewed: April 2014



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