It is the ultimate honour that few in the world will ever have, having a series of banknotes bearing their image.
Global icon and South Africa’s first democratically elected President Nelson Mandela has been given that ultimate honour: the country’s Reserve Bank will use his image in a new series of bank notes to be released before the end of this year.
The announcement by President Jacob Zuma coincided with the 22nd anniversary of his release from prison. Madiba, as he is affectionately known, will become the first black person to have his face featured on a South African banknote.
During the press conference, Zuma said “this was a humble gesture the country is making in expressing its deep gratitude of a life spent in service of the people of this country and in the cause of humanity world wide”.
Mandela is only the second person to be featured on the country’s legal tender, after Jan Van Riebeeck who appeared on the pre-Apartheid South African notes.
“We are happy to make this announcement on the anniversary date of his release from prison, which marked the beginning of a new era of hope for our country and the world,” he said.
Central bank governor, Gill Marcus said they had consulted widely before the decision to introduce the new notes. “We also consulted with Nelson Mandela Foundation, Nelson Mandela, Graca Machel and Winnie Madikizela Mandela all of them have been deeply touched by the note the tribute to a person who has symbolised,” she said.
The bank said the security features on the notes were upgraded every seven to 10 years and it has state of the art printing equipment.
According to Business Day, the new currency, which will cost an estimated 2,5 million Rand to design, will be introduced before December, 2012. No coins will change, and current bank notes will remain legitimate tender alongside the new notes.
The central bank added that it would be embarking on an extensive information campaign for South Africans to familiarise themselves with the notes’ security features.
Marcus said it was considered best practice for central banks to redesign notes every six to eight years and to add new security features. South Africa’s current bank notes, bearing the images of the country’s so-called “Big Five” animals, were last upgraded, although not redesigned, in 2005.
The Mandela notes will also have newly developed security features.
The Reserve Bank says the current notes will remain legal tender and there will be a programme, of replacement with the new notes over time.
Meanwhile, South Africa’s main opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA) welcomed the announcement.
Democratic Alliance’s Tim Harris said in a statement, “it is an appropriate commemoration of Mandela’s contribution to the birth of democracy in South Africa, as well as his considerable positive impact on national reconciliation.”
However, Harris said it was regrettable that the announcement was made in a manner that increased uncertainty in financial and currency markets.
Earlier on Saturday, German international news agency DPA reported lack of details about the nature of the announcement which briefly spooked markets.
The rand tumbled about 2.5 per cent against the dollar.
Following reassuring remarks from bank officials, who indicated that the news would not be about interest rates or resignations, the rand made a quick rebound.
Harris said the Press conference was announced on a trading day but scheduled for a day the market was closed which fuelled speculative rumours.
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