Former president Nelson Mandela became the first recipient of the National Heritage Council's (NHC) ubuntu award last week.
Deputy president Phumzile Mlambo- Ngcuka received the award on Mandela's behalf at an ubuntu imbizo in Botshabelo, Mpumalanga.
"It is impossible for me to receive the first ubuntu award as an individual. In the spirit of ubuntu, we receive it on behalf of all South Africans who sacrificed to contribute to the development of a South African national heritage," Mlambo- Ngcuka said when reading the speech on behalf of Mandela.
NHC spokesman Danny Goulkan said Mandela was chosen because he was someone who embraced and personified ubuntu.
Sandile Mancotywa, chief executive of the NHC, said the award was part of his organisation's mandate to "promote our national heritage".
"The South Africa of today, with its racial diversity and whose people owe their origins to so many parts of the globe, would not be possible without ubuntu," he said.
Mlambo-Ngcuka commended the NHC for "promoting our national pride, our heritage, thereby enhancing our national identity".
"The national imbizo on ubuntu is potentially one of the most significant interventions in our efforts to find the right formula for social cohesion, natural reconciliation and in defining our national identity," she said.
Goulkan said the award had been set up to revive humanity.