Start main page content

President awards Witsies National Orders

- Wits University

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has awarded four Witsies his office’s highest honour for their services to South Africa.

President Ramaphosa today awarded National Orders to citizens and foreign nationals who have made outstanding contributions towards the betterment of the country.  

In his address the President said that the individuals deserved the recognition and had “defied the odds and made immense sacrifices not only for us to attain our freedom but so that such freedom becomes meaningful and is enjoyed by all. The outstanding individuals are in different ways champions of freedom, champions of peace, of human rights, social justice as well as equality.

The President said that the National Order recipients have honoured and upheld the values which, when put together, represent the highest ideals of humanity.

Witsies Sibusiso Nyembezi (posthumous), Raymond Louw (posthumous), Justice Edwin Cameron, and Max Coleman were amongst those honoured today.

Professor Sibusiso Nyembezi, who was an academic at the then Department of Bantu Languages at Wits, received the Order of Ikhamanga (gold), which is awarded to individuals who have excelled in the fields of arts, culture, literature, music, journalism and sport. Nyembezi, who passed away in 2000, was a Zulu novelist, poet, scholar, teacher and editor. He is the third member of this former Department to receive National Orders, after Professor B.W Vilakazi and Dr Robert Sobukwe. The Department played a tremendous role in defying apartheid and continues – as the African Languages Department of its to contribute to the development and preservation of South African languages. The University awarded Nyembezi an honorary doctorate in 1982.

Mr Raymond Louw, a multi-decorated journalist and editor who wielded his pen against apartheid and fought for media freedom, also received the Order of Ikhamanga (gold). Louw, who passed away in 2019 at the age of 93, received an honorary doctorate from Wits University in 2015. As the editor of the Rand Daily Mail, Louw is credited for taking the paper to its peak as it stood out “for its commitment to fine, critical and independent journalism – and that it was at its best and its strongest during Ray’s 11-year editorship,” says media professor Anton Harber.

Justice Edwin Cameron

Justice Edwin Cameron was bestowed the Order of the Baobab (gold), awarded to exceptional citizens who have gone above and beyond the call of duty. A former judge in the Constitutional Court, Cameron’s heroism in and out of the court is well documented. He served as a labour and human rights lawyer in defence of African National Congress activists charged with treason; defended conscientious and religious objectors to conscription; dealt with land tenure issues and forced removals; protected freedom fighters, the ‘Sharpeville Six’ from capital punishment; and fought for gay and lesbian rights. He was one of the HIV/Aids activists leading the charge against the post-democracy government to provide treatment and care to HIV/AIDS patients. Cameron has a long relationship with Wits University dating from 1978 when he was a lecturer in the School of Law. He is the former Chair of the Wits Council, the highest decision making body of the University, and was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University is 2010.

Max and Audrey Coleman were bestowed the Order of Luthuli (silver), conferred on those who have made a meaningful contribution to the struggle for democracy, human rights, nation-building, justice and peace, and conflict resolution. Wits alumus Max Coleman served as the Human Rights Commissioner. He was the founding member of the Detainees Parents Support Committee (DPSC), established to provide food, clothing and legal assistance to detainees under apartheid, as well as to monitor and publicise state repression. Coleman earned his first degree at Wits University, a BSc Engineering.

Other Witsies who previously received National Orders include Professor Yosuf (Joe) Veriava; Professor Thokozani Majozi;  Emeritus Professor James David Lewis-Williams;  Journalism student, Doug Anderson; Wits alumni Justice Yvonne Mokgoro; William Frankel, Chair of the Wits Foundation in the UK; Professor Benedict Wallet Vilakazi (‘Father of Zulu poetry’); Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng (Mathematics Education); Professor Helen Rees (internationally renowned expert in HIV prevention, reproductive health and vaccines), and Wits alumna, Sylvia “Magogo” Glasser (choreographer).

2019 - Wits academics bestowed with National Orders

2016 - National Orders for four Witsies

2015 - National Orders for Witsies