The French ambassador to South Africa, Aurelien Lechevallier, recently bestowed the insignia of the sought-after French Legion of Honour on Prof Thuli Madonsela.
Prof Madonsela, incumbent of the chair in social justice at Stellenbosch University's Faculty of Law, received the insignia of the title “Knight of the Legion of Honour" in recognition of her remarkable achievements in fighting corruption and defending the rule of law, social justice and human rights in South Africa.
The French Legion of Honour celebrates the accomplishments of distinguished individuals, irrespective of social background or nationality.
French president Emmanuel Macron awarded the title of Knight of the Legion (Ordre national de la Légion d'honneur) to Madonsela on 20 November 2020. The official ceremony to confer the insignia of this title took place at L'Avenir wine estate outside Stellenbosch in April 2021. Guests at the ceremony included members of the diplomatic community, Stellenbosch mayor Gesie van Deventer, Justice Albie Sachs, SU's Dean of Law Prof Nicola Smit, other staff from the University, as well as former colleagues, friends and family members of Madonsela.
In addressing the guests, Lechevallier said: “We are here to celebrate a passionate advocate and defender of the rule of law, and a leader in the fight against corruption in South Africa – someone who has often had to stand up to the powerful on behalf of ordinary people as she continues to work tirelessly to strengthen the legal system and promote social justice and democracy in South Africa.
“Her name and integrity have gone beyond borders," the ambassador continued, “and her friendship, to our delight, has reached France and its people. Today, Thuli Madonsela is a household name, and has even been included in lists of the most influential people in the world."
Before awarding the insignia, Lechevallier had this message for Prof Madonsela: “When I think of your legacy, I think you remind South Africans that they stand on the shoulders of giants. I hope you know that the new generation, and the leaders of tomorrow, will stand upon yours!"
Madonsela expressed her gratitude to the president and people of France: “I do my work to add value to humanity, out of love and gratitude for the privileges life and humanity have given me, and in pursuit of my duties. However, a recognition of this magnitude does inspire immense gratitude, while spotlighting my work on social justice, the rule of law and ethical governance. I believe it comes from a place of appreciating our interconnectedness as humanity, though separated by oceans and borders."
She gave credit to the Public Protector team who had worked with her in the pursuit of ethical and accountable government for seven years, as well as to her current co-workers: “I also accept the award on behalf of my colleagues at Stellenbosch University, with whom we are pioneering research, policy reform and civic mobilisation on social justice with the hope of catalysing progress towards ending poverty and reducing structural inequality by 2030 in line with the global sustainable development goals. Finally, I accept the award on behalf of my Thuma Foundation colleagues, who, as mostly volunteers, dedicate their time and resources towards making democracy work for all through democracy leadership and literacy."
The French Legion of Honour was established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 and is viewed as the highest decoration in France. The categories of the order include the degrees knight (Chevalier), officer (Officier), commander (Commandeur), grand officer (Grand Officier) and grand cross (Grand-Croix). Former president Nelson Mandela was awarded the degree grand cross in 1994.
Other South Africans who were previously awarded French knighthood include Nadine Gordimer, Ahmed Kathrada, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mamphela Ramphele, Miriam Makeba, André P. Brink and Zanele Muholi.
For more information, contact Diane Gahiza at 071 353 4700 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here for a video of the ceremony.
Justice Albie Sachs, Prof Thuli Madonsela and French ambassador Aurelien Lechevallier shortly after Madonsela received the insignia of the title “Knight of the Legion of Honour". Photo: Embassy of France.