Honours system
June 2009

Precedence (order of wearing)

UNTIL 1954, South African decorations and medals were integrated into the British honours system, and their precedence was determined by British rules. Since 1954, precedence has been prescribed by the South African government.

It has varied over the years, official tables having been issued in 1954, 1967, 1993, and 2005.

1954-1967

The first South African table, issued in October 1954, placed the post-1952 South African military awards, and those pre-1952 civil, police and prisons medals which remained in use, immediately after the Victoria Cross and before all other British and Commonwealth honours. In outline, the order of precedence was :
• Victoria Cross
• South African decorations and medals:
   • Decorations for gallantry, distinguished and meritorious service
   • Campaign medals
   • Commemorative medals
   • Long service medals
• British honours and awards (including discontinued pre-1952 SA medals)
• Foreign honours and awards

1967-1993

A new table of precedence was issued in January 1967, and updated in 1970. It included only the post-1952 decorations and medals and relegated the pre-1952 civil, police and prisons medals to the category of "other", which included British and foreign honours. In outline, the order of precedence was :
• South African decorations and medals:
   • Decorations for gallantry, distinguished and meritorious service
   • Campaign medals
   • Commemorative medals
   • Long service medals
   • Shooting medals
• Awards for "voluntary and unremunerated service", e.g. Order of St John, Red Cross
• British honours and awards (including discontinued pre-1952 SA medals)
• Foreign honours and awards

As the Victoria Cross was not specifically mentioned, the inference is that it was now supposed to be worn with the other British awards, after South African medals but, to judge from photographs, South Africa's only serving VC recipient (from World War II) continued to place his cross ahead of his post-1952 medals.

Pre-1952 awards such as the Queen's Police Medal, and the police, railways police good service medals, which had been included in the 1954 list, and were discontinued in the early 1960s, appear also to have been relegated to the "British" section.

Despite the numerous changes and developments which took place during the 1970s and 1980s, it was not until 1993 that a new official table of precedence was issued. From the mid-1970s, each of the services followed its own internal table of precedence, and as there were few instances of members of one service receiving awards from another, this sufficed. The police and railways police departed from the usual sequence, by placing their campaign and commemorative medals after their long service awards, but in 1990 they re-assigned them to their customary positions between decorations and long service medals.

1993-2005

The table issued in September 1993 incorporated all the post-1952 awards, and the pre-1952 civil, police and prisons medals which had been dropped from the table in 1967. It contained a number of anomalies: some awards were omitted, and some appear more than once, in different positions. The table also changed the relative precedence of several decorations for gallantry.

In broad outline, the order of precedence was :
• South African decorations and medals:
   • Decorations for gallantry, distinguished and meritorious service
   • Campaign medals
   • Commemorative medals
   • Long service medals
   • Sports awards
   • Shooting medals
• British honours and awards
• Foreign honours and awards (including the homelands') and orders of chivalry*
• Medals awarded by SA statutory bodies, municipalities, and fire services**
• Medals awarded by private institutions**

* Not to be worn without presidential approval
** Not to be worn with official awards, except with presidential approval

2005-

A new table was issued in March 2005, to consolidate the 'old' South African, 'new' South African, homeland, and liberation armies' awards into a single list. It is a remarkable document : 21 pages long, listing 361 orders, decorations and medals – excluding those which were never awarded (such as the Castle of Good Hope Decoration). A supplement, issued a few weeks later, added the new SA Police Service medals, but the Intelligence Service medals (2005) and Municipal/Metropolitan Police Service medals (2008) have not yet been provided for.

In outline, the current table of precedence is :
• South African and former homelands' decorations and medals:
   • Decorations for bravery and meritorious service
   • Campaign medals
   • Commemorative medals
   • Long service medals
   • Sports awards
   • Shooting medals
• British honours and awards
• Foreign honours and awards and orders of chivalry*
• International/inter-governmental bodies' awards*
• Medals awarded by SA provinces, local authorities, and statutory bodies**
• Medals awarded by private institutions***
• Awards for animals

* Not to be worn without presidential approval
** Not to be worn with official awards, except with presidential approval
*** Not to be worn with official awards

References :
  • South Africa Government Gazette 5348 (01.10.1954); 1630 (06.01.1967); 15093 (03.09.1993); 27376 (11.03.2005); and 27496 (15.04.2005).
 
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