Tears of joy flow as founder of 67 Blankets for Nelson Mandela Carolyn Steyn is Knighted by the French Government

By Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor

Those among us to whom the French language is just as good as Greek, were made to feel like we are left out by our inability to master the French language, as not only did actress, radio presenter and philanthropist Carolyn Steyn in her acceptance speech address a high powered audience in flawless French, but spoke in a manner of someone who has completely fallen in love with this language of romance. The occasion was the bestowing of Knighthood on Steyn by by the French Government. The ceremony was conducted by the French Ambassador to South Africa H.E. Mr Aurélien Lechevallie The award is officially called Chevalier de l’Ordre national du Mérite (Knight of the French National Order of Merit).

This Knighthood is in recognition of Steyn’s varied career as an actress with a decently impressive list of credits on TV, radio, film and stage, and in recent years, her increasingly influential role in Philanthropy. 

Steyn since 2013, when she founded 67 Blankets for Nelson Mandela day, a charity that mobilizes South Africans from different backgrounds to knit blankets to distribute to these less privileged in society on former President, the late Nelson Mandela on his birthday ever year. The charity has gone  on to win several awards  as well as breaking a Guinness Book of Records in 2014 for knitting the longest ever blanket in the world.

The inauguration was preceded by a speech by the Ambassador, who cited Steyn’s journey as a shy aspirant actress, her time at Wits where she studied speech and drama, to a polished actress whose footprints extend beyond South Africa to the US, where she spent 10 years working as an actress.

Steyn, the founder of the successful charity organisation, 67 Blankets for Nelson Mandela whose tentacles are well spread to the rest of South Africa, and whose presence is felt globally, spoke in impressive French in 99% of her speech. 

French Ambassador to South Africa H.E. Mr Aurélien Lechevallie and Carolyn Steyn.

At the beginning of her speech one however could notice the amazement on the faces of many a gues as Steyn suddenly transformed herself linguistically, from being an English speaker into a French language specialist. As she accepted the honour, Steyn fought tears of joy that seemed to flow freely down her cheeks in appreciation of this acknowledgement of her work by the French Government. The proceedings were momentarily halted as an emotionally drained Steyn had to wipe the tears and compose herself before launching into an animated speech rendition that seemed to touch the audience.

The event was also attended by previous recipients of this honour, which is bestowed on non French citizens who have distinguished themselves in arts and culture. Some of the previous recipients of this honour who graced this auspicious occasion by any standard, held in the lush garden of the Ambassador’s residence in Pretoria on Wednesday, March 30, 2022, include Ismail Mahomed (2021) the director of the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Michelle Constant (2021), former Chief Executive Officer of Business and Arts South Africa, and Mandie van der Spuy (2007), former head of sponsorship at Standard Bank.

However it is the speech by Steyn that seemed to have stolen the greatest moments of this event held on a sunny afternoon, whose searing Pretoria heat was nicely tamed by a selection of various brands of French champaigne that guests imbibed with liberal abandon, nicely washing down the drinks with the sumptuous French themed various meal dishes that were served.

Some of us who could not understand a single word of what Steyn had said scurried for her written English version of the speech after the formal proceedings to get an idea of what she had said, which seemed to have connected with those gifted in this language as they applauded her on several occasions during her speech.

“Her French is impressive, almost perfect,” Vigdis BEAUSSIER, Press and Political Counsellor at the French Embassy in South Africa told CITYLIFE/ARTS after Steyn’s address.

For me though the only part of the speech that I got was when Steyn concluded her speech by acknowledging the support she gets from her husband, business mogul Dow Steyn. This reminded me of donkey years ago, when travelling in France for the first time, how I struggled to communicate with Parisians on the streets as they responded to me in French when I asked them for directions in English. It was a cultural shock of sorts for me.

“Last but not least, I am eternally grateful to my husband Dow for his incredible support. I am sad that he is unable to be with me today but I know that he is watching this livestream right now and is rooting for me all the way. He has given me wings to fly and I love him so much,” with that it was the end of the formal proceedings was time to mingle and enjoy the treats on offer.

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CITYTLIFE/ARTS has been a game changer in publishing quality contemporary art content since it was launched in 2017 by Its Founding Editor, multi-award winning Arts Journalist Edward Tsumele. The publication continues to be an online publication of choice for business leaders, scholars, artists and thought leaders who follow its daily updated news stories, features, reviews and opinion pieces by our dedicated contributors.  Today the publication has ardent readers in South Africa,  on the African continent as well as a significant following in the UK, The Netherlands, the US, Canada, and  the United Arab Emirates,  with a 40%/60% split of female/male readers. We therefore would like to create a community of readers and you can assist us to do so by following us on Facebook You can also sign up to our newsletter and get a curated selection of our best articles to your inbox every day . CITYLIFE/ARTS is an independent publication that relies on arts patrons, who are committed to supporting the arts in South Africa and the African continent as well advertisers who want to reach our influential readers. You too can be involved in supporting the arts by making a financial contribution  to this publication or by advertising on the platform to reach decision makers and other influential people who are part of the CITYLIFE/ARTS Family. If you like what we do and you would like to be involved for more information please contact Edward Tsumele on 0837211228 or email citylifearts@gmail.com

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