Zuma to honour KZN teacher

2009-12-11 00:00

THE highest accolade any teacher can receive is to be nominated by her former pupils to be considered for one of the nation’s top awards.

Today Betty Firmstone, who taught at Little Flower School in Ixopo for 51 years, will receive the Order of the Baobab in bronze from President Jacob Zuma at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

The National Orders are the highest awards that South Africa bestows on its citizens.

According to the citation, Firmstone’s award is in recognition of her “sterling role and contribution in the improvement of education in the country and for her exemplary, instrumental and influential role in the field of education”.

Former Pietermaritzburg resident Winston Middleton, who led the campaign for Firmstone to be considered for a National Order, said she is a truly remarkable woman who positively influenced the lives of thousands of pupils.

“I always wanted to do something for her and the idea to nominate her for a National Order evolved after a chat with other past pupils of the school,” he said.

Firmstone, who lives in a home for the aged in Scottsville, said when she received the call from the president’s office, her first reaction was to say she could not accept. “I was part of a team, it was not just me,” she said.

“The lady on the other end of the line said you can’t say ‘no’ to the president of the country. She also said ‘we received so many letters supporting you getting the award, that you will be letting all these people down’,” said Firmstone.

The Order of the Baobab has three categories.

The order in gold is being awarded posthumously to the Reverend Mangena Maake Mokone, founder of the African Ethiopian Movement, for his contribution in laying the foundation for African and liberation theology.

The Order in silver is being awarded to Thudiso Virginia Gcabashe for courageous service to her community, her dedication to women’s empowerment and her commitment to the development of education for disadvantaged communities.

The Order of Mapungubwe, which is the highest award being given out today and is for excellence and exceptional achievement, is being bestowed upon Professor Hendrik Koornhof for his contribution in the field of biomedical science, Professor Johan Lutjeharms for his research in oceanographic science and Professor Bongani Mayosi for his research in medical science.

Other distinguished South Africans who will be honoured by President Zuma today include singer Miriam Makeba (posthumous), swimmer Natalie du Toit, musician Abdullah Ibrahim and three liberation heroes who sacrificed their lives for the struggle for a free South Africa, Ahmed Timol, Dulcie September and David Rabkin.

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