Gordimer was awarded the decorative medal on at a ceremony over the weekend at the Pretoria home of Denis Pietton, the French ambassador in South Africa.
Pietton said France wanted to pay homage to a "great writer" whose "work shines throughout the world."
"By making you an Officer of the Legion of Honor, we also wish to pay tribute to a symbolic figure of the fight against apartheid, that absurd and terrible system that sought, unrealistically to separate races," he said.
Gordimer, 83, who is also a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Development Program, was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1991. Several of her novels were once banned in her own country.
The author said she was "overwhelmed" by the French honor. She expressed her love for French literature and writing and spoke about the inspiration she drew from authors such as Marcel Proust and Jean-Paul Sartre.
"I accept with great gratitude and humility," she said.
Napoleon created the legion in 1802 to honor exceptional service to France, including artistic and intellectual contributions.
Nobel peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former education minister Kader Asmal, singer Miriam Makeba and writer Andre Brink are among the handful of South Africans who have also received the prestigious award.
"As South Africans we can be proud of Nadine," acclaimed South African writer Mongane Wally Serote said at the ceremony. "She keeps a sharp focus on human relations in her writing that makes her work timeless."
Born in the mining town of Springs, east of Johannesburg, Gordimer began to write at the age of 9. Her first short story was published in a South African magazine when she was 15.
Regarded as the doyenne of South African literature, she was an ardent opponent of apartheid and spoke out against racial segregation and censorship in the country.
Pietton said Gordimer's work was "deeply marked by the situation in South Africa" and "demonstrated the superiority of human feelings over legalized segregation."
Gordimer is known for books such as "The Lying Days" her first book "July's People" and "The Conservationist," joint winner of the Booker Prize.
She also edited "Telling Tales," an anthology for AIDS charities, featuring Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Margaret Atwood, John Updike, Susan Sontag, Hanif Kureishi and Jose Saramago.
Her latest book, "Get a Life," was published in 2006 and "Beethoven Was One Sixteenth Black," a collection of stories, is to be published later this year.