South African Medals Website
South Africa, and the former homelands and South West Africa
Arthur Radburn Online since 2001
Civil orders, decorations and medals
June 2009 / August 2012
Civil orders, decorations and medals : overview
THE conferment of civil honours and awards began in South Africa in the 17th century, and continues to this day. These honours recognise achievements and services to the country, and bravery in saving lives, or commemorate special national events.
Cape of Good Hope (Colony) Although there was no honours system as such during the Dutch colonial period (1652-1806), the Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie which governed the Cape of Good Hope at that time occasionally awarded once-off medals to honour people or to commemorate special events.
After Britain took over the colony permanently in 1814, colonists became eligible for British civil honours, such as knighthoods, baronetcies, and orders. From 1877 onwards, officials and military officers featured regularly in the semi-annual British honours lists.
Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek The burghers of the Boer republics regarded orders and decorations as unacceptably royalist, but the ZAR (Transvaal) had a short-lived presidential decoration in the 1870s. In 1894, the government proposed establishing a series of orders and decorations, but it was vetoed by the legislature because public opinion was against the idea. This prejudice influenced the development of South African honours until the 1970s.
Natal (Colony) As a British colony from 1843 onwards, Natal also came under the British honours system. There is a known instance of the Natal government awarding a civil medal directly.
Union of South Africa The British honours system continued to apply after the colonies united in 1910 to form the Union of South Africa, though nominations for knighthoods and baronetcies were stopped by Parliament in 1925, and few recommendations for other awards were made after that time. During the fifty-one years of the Union (1910-61), the government also awarded a few decorations and medals of its own.
Republic of South Africa After becoming a republic in 1961, South Africa gradually built up a new range of civil awards. They were rationalised, and most of them were placed under the control of a Chancery of Orders, in 1986.
Homelands The four African homelands ("national states") within South Africa which were declared independent between 1976 and 1981, all established their own civil honours on independence : the Transkei in 1976, Bophuthatswana in 1977, Venda in 1979, and the Ciskei in 1981. The homeland orders and decorations became obsolete when the national states were reincorporated into the RSA in 1994.
'New' South Africa The Republic of South Africa was reconstituted as a democratic state in 1994. New national honours were introduced to replace those of the "old" South Africa, most of them in 2002-03.
The first provincial honours were established, by the Western Cape, in 1999, and were awarded from 2003.