Africa’s most-celebrated Gospel star has been honoured with another prestigious award. But her early years were marked by suffering and rejection and her life is a testimony of how God turned her life around, writes Neziswa Kanju
President Cyril Ramaphosa, the Grand Patron of the National Orders, on Thursday, November 18, bestowed the National Orders Awards on distinguished citizens and eminent foreign nationals who have contributed towards the advancement of democracy and have made a significant impact on improving the lives of South Africans.
The Order of Mendi for Bravery; the Order of Ikhamanga, the Order of the Baobab, the Order of Luthuli, and the Order of the Companions of OR Tambo were bestowed on deserving recipients. The national orders are the highest awards that South Africa bestows, through the president of the republic. They recognise the contributions made by individuals towards building a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa as envisaged in our Constitution.
“Two years have passed since we last held the presentation of the national orders, due to Covid-19. This pandemic has cost many lives and has threatened, in some cases devastated, many livelihoods and disrupted almost every part of our lives,” Ramaphosa said. “Regardless of the spheres of life in which they applied themselves, the recipients have honoured and upheld the values, which when put together, represent the highest ideals of humanity.”
The queen of African Gospel Rebecca Malope was one of the recipients at the awards. She was awarded the Order of Ikhamanga in silver. The Order of Ikhamanga recognises South African citizens who have excelled in the fields of arts, culture, literature, music, journalism and sport. “Her unique voice brings joy and comfort to many through meaningful Gospel music,” said the chancellor of the national orders and director-general in the presidency, Phindile Baleni.
Malope has received many awards throughout her illustrious career that spans three decades, both from home and internationally. She says her latest award is her most special because she was honoured at home by the president.
Born Batsogile Lovederia “Rebecca” Malope on June 30 1968 in Lekazi near Nelspruit in Mpumalanga, she is the youngest of three children. Malope endured a traumatic childhood that included overcoming a debilitating illness that affected the use of her legs. Her mother had to run away from home after a domestic violence episode that left her fighting for her life. Malope says her father resented her because of her illness as he saw her as a burden. He abandoned her and the young Rebecca had to find work when she was 9 years old. Her circumstances made it challenging for her to continue with her education and she left school at Grade 4. She tells the story of how she was repeatedly raped by her neighbour, how she ran away to Johannesburg hitchhiking, how she had to eat from rubbish bins to feed herself.
Redemption and forgiveness
Malope’s circumstances changed after winning the 1987 Shell Road to Fame Competition. She was reunited with her mother and through the prize money from the competition was able to provide for her family. Her life’s story is a lesson in redemption and forgiveness. She carried resentment towards her father for many years but had to forgive him, “to free myself”, she says. She was able to make peace with him before he died.
God has turned her life around and today she is the most celebrated female Gospel artist in Africa. She is a television host of the longest-running Gospel tv show in South Africa, It’s Gospel Time; she has produced 36 albums and her songs have been a source of hope for many. Her latest offering is a collaboration with another celebrated Gospel musician, Benjamin Dube. Their legions of fans have been asking for a collaboration for years and the much awaited single is called Zilungiseleni (Get ready). It is about the second coming of Christ.
Hers is a story of triumph that is reminiscent of the young Jewish orphan girl Hadassah who became Queen Esther of Persia. Rebecca Malope, abandoned and rejected in her youth would receive the greatest award in any country — the National Order.
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