South Africa Honors Heroes

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In Africa, the Baobab tree is a symbol of resilience. Mrs. Mbeki worked for more than 60 years as a community activists in Eastern Cape and ran a shop while her late husband Govan, popularly known as Oom Gov, was jailed alongside former SA president and anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela on Robben Island.

South African President Thabo Mbeki led his country this week to bestow one of South Africa's highest honors on his mother Epainette and 26 other heroes for their distinguished role in the fight against apartheid.

Even though his mother was reported to too ill to receive the honors, Mbeki conferred Epainette, who turns 90 this year with the Order of the Baobab "for her exceptional contribution to economic upliftment of underprivileged communities and her commitment to the fight against apartheid."

In Africa, the Baobab tree is a symbol of resilience. Mrs. Mbeki worked for more than 60 years as a community activists in Eastern Cape and ran a shop while her late husband Govan, popularly known as Oom Gov, was jailed alongside former SA president and anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela on Robben Island.

Though frail, Mrs. Mbeki known by her clan name Ma Mofokeng, still runs a community store as she did with her husband when she was still alive after he was released from prison.

Close associates of the Mbekis say although she and her husband spent most of their married life apart, even after his release, they shared ethos of productivity and a 'missionary impulse' that saw them devoting their lives to the upliftment of others. Posthumous awards were made in honor of Botswana's late founding president Sir Seretse Khama, the late King Moshoeshoe II of Lesotho and the late King Sobhuza II of Swaziland. They were conferred with the Order of the Companions of OR Tambo, named after veteran nationalist and fighter Oliver Tambo for their "exceptional contributions to the struggle against apartheid through supporting the liberation movement in times of need."

A former head of state as well as former president Nelson Mandela's biographer were also honored. "You must remember that Thabo Mbeki is no longer my son. He is my comrade," Govan Mbeki once said on the prospect of seeing his son in Lusaka, Zambia after nearly three decades.

ANC is Africa's oldest nationalist movement and under veteran freedom fighters Walter Sisulu, Mbeki, Tambo and Mandela, the ANC began sponsoring non-violent protests, strikes, boycotts and marches in the process becoming the target of police harassment and arrest.

In April last year, Zimbabwe honored number African heroes in recognition for their service and role in the liberation of Zimbabwe. The honors were made as Zimbabwe celebrated its silver jubilee independence anniversary on April 18.

Among those honored were Zambia's founding president Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, Sir Seretse Khama -Botswana's first president, Angola's founding president Agostinho Neto, the late Pan African legend and Tanzania's first president Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, President Samora Machel of Mozambique and a number of Zimbabwean heroes who made immense contribution to the country's struggle for independence.

All these honors are an encouraging development that can help the younger generation to learn about the epic deeds of Africa's heroes who sacrificed their lives for Africans to be free.

At least Africa now knows that no one will genuinely confer honors on their heroes but that it is their duty to recapture Africa's glory and celebrate the freedom that we got from the heroic deeds of our freedom fighters.

After all, Europe is still honoring its World War II heroes more than half a century since that conflict. Africa has to do this on its own sons and daughters of the soil.

Tsiko is The Black Star News’s Southern Africa correspondent based in Harare, Zimbabwe.
 
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