Coining it: the women behind Mzansi's newly minted coin designs

A coin is a simple object: one that your hands probably make contact with every day of your life, without you giving it much, if any, thought.

However, these little objects that occasionally lease time in your wallet are tell stories about the world and time in which they were produced.

For historians and archaeologists, coins from ancient empires like Rome and Persia serve as time stamps, illustrating what life was like in these glorious kingdoms during those long-gone days.

If the coins commissioned by the South African Reserve Bank and SA Mint could tell a story of 2019's South Africa to those studying them a century from now, it would be a narrative of opportunity, glass ceilings shattering and creative entrepreneurs claiming their space in the economy.

Among the five designers who designed the new coins, which were designed in commemoration of 25 years of democracy, are three dynamic women who straddle the business and creative world. The commissioned designers responsible for the new coin designs are exceptional in a number of ways.

For starters, this is the first time that the South African Reserve Bank and SA Mint have outsourced the design of minted coins to designers outside of the organisation’s employ.

Secondly, they were sought out by the Reserve Bank and SA Mint as entrepreneurs, trailblazers and mentors in the creative and design sectors.

Reserve Bank Governor Lesetja Kganyago unveiled the new coins back in June, which were also designed by globally acclaimed artist, Peter Mammes, and graffiti and tattoo artist, Rasty Knayles. But the women who designed the coins stand out for using their creative know-how to get to the bag.

Maaike Bakker – visual artist, creative entrepreneur

Maaike Bakker's R2 coin design commemorating envir

Visual artist, Maaike Bakker, designed the environmental rights themed R2 coin. She told Fin24 that she did not expect that SA Mint and the Reserve Bank to seek her out as a designer for one of the commemorative coins.

"I was definitely surprised. It's not an inbox you would expect. But I was familiar with the agency commissioning it. We got to visit the SA Mint. We were excited about the commission and the opportunity to commemorate democracy," said Bakker.

Bakker said her design, which featured images of rivers, plant life and the sun, sought to convey to biodiversity of South Africa as well as the importance of the country's natural resources.

"Another thing we should communicate is how valuable out ecosystem and environment are. It is a right, but it is also a privilege. I tried to get a sense of preservation across. The coin is physically a small platform, so I had to keep it simple but communicate directly," Bakker said.

Bakker said her next big project was an exhibition at the Kalashnikovv gallery in Johannesburg with another artist later in the year.

Neo Mahlangu – artist and designer

NEW COIN DESIGNS

Perhaps the busiest artist on the roster for the design of the commemorative coins, Ga Rankuwa-born Neo Mahlangu designed two R2 coins, one themed on children's rights and the other themed on the inalienable right to education.

Neo Mahlangu's design for the R2 coin commemoratin

Mahlangu used pencil charcoal for her designs, an intuitive move she says paid off. She said, with limited space physically, she wanted develop designs which were simple and powerful.

"With the children's rights coin, I wanted to convey joy and show children at their happiest. Carefree, joyful energy is one of the most special parts of childhood. I put a little girl on the coin, because that is something I have never seen on a coin before.

"On the right to education coin, I wanted to portray learning in its simplest form. I understand the graduation cap as a universal symbol for education. The first thing that comes to mind with the cap is university, so I added the toy block to remind people that the foundation is also important," Mahlangu said.

Mahlangu said while possibilities in the creative sector were endless, as SA Mint's faith in the designers has shown that one challenge remaining for many designers was to be bold enough to ask for their worth when servicing clients.

Laura Windvogel, aka Lady Skollie – artist

SA mint

Laura Windvogel was the only fine arts specialist approached by the Reserve Bank and SA Mint to design a coin. She designed the R5 coin, themed "let us live and strive for freedom", which bears the image of long queues from 1994's election day.

Windvogel told Fin24 that the design had a evoked various different connotations people could extract from waiting in line, from the hope carried by a vote to waiting for an opportunity that is a long time coming.

"The design is a double-edged sword. It represents an important point in our history, with many being able to vote and take power into their own hands. On the other side, every South African can relate to long queues, things being offline and a moment for what seems like forever," said Windvogel.

Windvogel told Fin24 that while the image on the coin represents unity among South Africans, she hoped the coin's image would serve as a "burning bush" of Moses that sparks unity among the most marginalised people in South African society, including coloured South Africans.

"For me the coin represents more than money, which is important, but one of the guidelines was that we should not reflect one type of people. For me the coin represents the most marginalised people in South Africa," Windvogel said.

She said while she loved the fact that the creative industry in South Africa was "out of bounds and there for the taking", she lamented the fact that government does not provide adequate support to South African creatives looking to establish themselves in the international market.

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