NDEBELE folk singer Nothembi Mkhwebane has been bestowed with the National Order of iKhamanga in Silver for putting Ndebele music on the world stage.
Better known as Queen of Ndebele Music, Mkhwebane, 57, was orphaned at the age of five and raised by her grandparents, who could not afford to send her to school.
She spent most of her youth herding cattle and sheep and, due to her family's love of music, this is where she learnt to play the reed flute and indigenous Ndebele music instrument isikhumero (mouth guitar).
Awarding the Order of iKhamanga in Silver to her during a ceremony at the presidential guest house in Pretoria on Freedom Day, President Jacob Zuma said the award recognises the singer's "sensational inspiration to many unsung heroes of our culture. Very few can match her guitar-playing prowess".
Speaking to Sowetan after the ceremony, Mkhwebane said she felt honoured and humbled by the highest award the country could bestow on outstanding citizens.
"I thank everybody who supported my music. This award proves that our cultures will forever be relevant and will always sustain us as a nation," Mkhwebane said.
She was honoured with the Woza Africa Foundation Award in 1988, Femina/NNTV Woman of 90s in 1995, Tourism Ambassador for SA in 1998, Mpumalanga Sports and Recreation, Arts and Culture Award in 1999, Bow and Arrow Best Tourist Ambassador of the Month in 2001, and the Ikwekwezi FM Best Ndebele Song in 1999.