Cuba has awarded one of its most prestigious medals to celebrated South African writer and Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer.

The award-winning novelist was presented with the Medal of Friendship in Pretoria on Monday at an official ceremony officiated by Ricardo Alarcon, Speaker of the Cuban National Assembly.

Gordimer was honoured alongside Dr Carmen Baez, deputy secretary-general of the Friendship Association with Cuba in South Africa.

The award was given to Gordimer for her work in defence of five Cuban nationals who were jailed five years ago by the United States government after alerting the Federal Bureau of Investigation of terror plans being hatched against Cuba on US soil.

Accepting the award, Gordimer told the gathering of diplomats, state officials and members of the Friends of Cuba Society "now I feel like an honorary Cuban". Reiterating her position on the double standards of the Bush administration, the Nobel laureate said it was an outrage that the US government had imprisoned Cuban patriots who had exposed an extensive anti-Cuba terror network, based in Miami, Florida.

Commenting on the Cuban Council of State's decision to present the awards to Gordimer and Baez, Cuban ambassador Ester Amenteros said it was done "because of their long-standing friendship with Cuba and because of their outstanding contribution".

During more than five decades in which she has penned almost two dozen novels, short story collections and works of fiction, Gordimer has always been regarded as a relentless crusader against repression and injustice.

During apartheid, she was one of the voices at the forefront of the fight for democracy and served on the executive of the Congress of South African Writers. She was also elected and served as vice-president of the international writers body, Pen International.

Monday's event, held at the official residence of the Cuban ambassador to South Africa, was also attended by Brian Williams, author of One Renaissance, Many Revolutions.

"The occasion was a tremendous celebration of Cuba's efforts in support of global justice and peace. It is indeed fitting and proper that two exceptional people of the calibre of Nadine Gordimer and Carmen Baez, who have been at the forefront of exposing the injustice against the Cuban five (the men imprisoned in the US), are honoured in this way," Williams said.