From Van Riebeeck to Madiba

2012-09-12 00:00

FIRST it was the face of Jan Van Riebeeck, then it was the faces of the Big Five. Now, as announced last week, it’s the face of former president Nelson Mandela. These are the images that have appeared on our bank notes, past, present and future, since the first South African rand banknote was introduced in 1961.

Previous to the rand, pound sterling was the standard currency of South Africa, first introduced to the Cape Colony in 1825 and gradually imposed on other states in southern Africa, such as the Orange Free State and the Transvaal Republic, as they were annexed by Britain. In 1910, they were formally brought together under the Union of South Africa. Until 1961, the South African pound was equal to the pound sterling, barring a brief period in 1931 when Britain abandoned the gold standard.

Although the move to the rand — and to a decimal currency system — coincided with the year South Africa became a republic, the move from pounds, shilling and pence to a decimal coinage had been in the offing for some time. A Decimal Coinage Commission was set up in 1956 to investigate a move to a currency based on a decimal system and when it was decided this was the route to go, the government introduced a mascot, Decimal Dan — “the rand-cent man” — around whom was built an education campaign.

The rand was born on February 14, 1961, its name derived from the Witwatersrand — the ridge of white waters — on which Johannesburg was built and under which South Africa’s richest gold deposits had been found. When South Africa was declared a republic on May 31, 1961, the new currency was retained. It was valued at R2 to the pound, until 1967 when sterling devalued.

The first rand banknotes, introduced in 1961, came in one, two, 10 and 20 rand denominations. The face of Van Riebeeck, the first European administrator of the Cape, was featured on the front (he had also been on the South African pound note) and there were two types of banknotes: one with English written first and the other with Afrikaans written first.

In 1966 came the first R5 note and then an entirely new series of banknotes was issued in 1978 in denominations of R2, R5 and R10. These were followed in 1984 with R20 and R50 notes. Van Riebeeck’s face remained.

In 1990, the notes were redesigned and Van Riebeeck’s face gave way to images of the Big Five. The R2 and R5 notes were replaced by coins and 1994 saw the advent of R100 and R200 notes.

The series issued in 2005 featured, for the first time, languages other than English and Afrikaans. While English was used on the front of the notes, two other languages appeared on the back with the result that over the various denominations all 11 official languages featured.

This series also saw the introduction of additional security features designed to prevent forgery. However, they were not entirely successful and in 2010, the South African Reserve Bank as well as the commercial banks withdrew all the 1990 series R200 banknotes to combat the circulation of counterfeit notes in that denomination.

In February this year, President Jacob Zuma announced that a complete set of banknotes bearing Mandela’s image would be issued. These new notes were unveiled on September 5 and a campaign, themed “One of a Kind”, was launched to educate and raise public awareness of the new banknotes which will come into circulation before the end of this year.

“We are pleased to issue this new series of banknotes, which reflects South Africa’s pride as a nation and pays tribute to a much-loved world icon,” said the Reserve Bank governor, Gill Marcus, speaking at the launch.

The front of the banknotes feature an image of Mandela, while the back of the notes have maintained the Big Five animal images that appear on current banknotes. The current and the new banknotes will co-circulate and both are legal tender.

According to the Reserve Bank, the new notes come with state-of-the-art security features as well as enhanced features for the visually impaired, including raised print on both sides. Marcus said it is regarded as a best practice internationally for central banks to upgrade the security features of their banknotes every six to eight years.

“This is to combat counterfeiting, which diminishes the value of real money, robs countries worldwide of billions of rand annually and tarnishes the credibility of a currency, thereby impacting on the growth of that economy,” she said.

“We’ve done our best to ensure that they cannot be replicated.”


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• With acknowledgments to Sapa, Wikipedia and the South African Reserve Bank. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

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