Coining it for Madiba’s 90th

The new five rand coin which will go into
circulation on 18 July 2008, Nelson
Mandela’s 90th birthday.
(Image: South African Reserve Bank)

A smiling Nelson Mandela depicted on the
domestic R2.05 stamp.
(Image: Nelson Mandela Foundation)

Janine Erasmus

A new South African five rand (R5) coin is to be released on 18 July 2008 to celebrate the 90th birthday of former president and Nobel Peace laureate Nelson Mandela. The South African Reserve Bank, the South African Mint, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Ministry of Finance will release five-million of the bi-metal coins into circulation.

The coin was launched at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg in July 2008. Making the announcement, Minister of Finance Trevor Manuel said the coin would symbolise the love Mandela has for humankind, and by passing the coin around people will share that love. “We want to see it in circulation,” he added.

Mandela is affectionately known by his clan name of Madiba. “We are so privileged to have Madiba with us, who actively continues to provide leadership and who continues to be an example to all of us,” said Manuel.

Manuel, Mandela and Reserve Bank Governor Tito Mboweni struck a new R5 coin on the day of the launch using a manual coin press. The new coin was then ceremonially handed over to Mandela. “Today I am richer than yesterday,” joked the statesman, “and I am not going to associate with poor people any more. This is very nice.”

Spreading the Madiba love

Manuel and Mboweni are encouraging the public to spend their Madiba birthday coins rather than squirrel them away. “We want people to touch a bit of Madiba, to share the love and leadership as the coin goes around.”

The obverse, or head, of the coin features Mandela in jovial mood, wearing the trademark “Madiba” shirt that has become a style icon and sets him apart from the usual, more formal portraits of leaders on coins. Mandela has worn the Madiba shirt in Parliament, when meeting foreign dignitaries, and at formal and informal functions, and has turned it into his personal fashion statement.

The reverse, or tail, of the coin features the new South African coat of arms, which was adopted on Freedom Day, 27 April 2000.

This is not the first time the former president has been honoured on the face of a coin. In 2007 the Mint introduced a pure gold and silver Protea coin series which honoured the 1993 joint Nobel Peace Prize laureates and former South African presidents Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk. The Protea series of collector coins commemorates matters of importance in the history of South Africa. The R25 coin features both statesmen together while the two R1 coins portray them individually.

In 2007 a rare Mandela proof R5 coin, minted in 2000, sold for R200 000 ($26 300). According to rare coin dealer SA Coin, this is one of only three coins in existence in such a perfect proof condition, and the value of these coins has increased by 4.4-million percent over the last seven years. SA Coin attributes this to the fact that Mandela is such a well-loved figure all over the world.

Security measures

The original R5 coin, which was part of a new South African coin series proposed in 1989, featured a black wildebeest, or white-tailed gnu, on the reverse. The black wildebeest is indigenous to Southern Africa and is one of two gnu species found here, the other being the blue wildebeest.

However, the first R5 coins were only minted in 1994, the year of the first democratic elections held in South Africa. Two R5 coins were released in that year, one to commemorate the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as president and one featuring the black wildebeest. The original R5 coins were made of nickel-plated copper.

The R5 coin in circulation today is South Africa’s first bi-metal coin and was introduced in 2004 after extensive counterfeiting of the previous version. The new coin, which also features the coat of arms and the black wildebeest, has a number of built-in security features, among them a security groove on the rim of the coin, serrations on both sides of the security groove, the term “SARB 5” written 10 times around the security groove and “SARB” written 57 times in micro lettering on the reverse of the coin.

Since 1996 the words “South Africa” have been written on the obverse in all 11 official languages on an annual rotating basis.

The old R5 coin is still legal tender but is being phased out over time.

Stamping his mark on the world

Not to be outdone, the South African Post Office has issued two limited issue Mandela birthday stamps which will soon see the elder statesman winging his way all around the world.

The stamps were launched on 15 July 2008 and are available in denominations of R2.05 for domestic mail and R4.05 for international mail. Both are designed as miniature sheets with collectors in mind – the stamps actually form part of a larger picture. The domestic stamp features a smiling Mandela in a photo taken by Halden Krog, while the international stamp sees the statesman posing elegantly for a portrait by Cyril Coetzee.

Only one-million of each have been printed and are available at post offices around South Africa.

“Stamps are small ambassadors that carry images of our country to destinations all over the world,” said SAPO board chairperson Vuyo Mahlati at the launch, “and Madiba’s 90th birthday will be remembered far into the future, because it has been captured on a stamp. We are very proud to be part of it.”

The Post Office has honoured Mandela on a previous occasion when it issued a special stamp to mark his presidential inauguration in 1994 – this stamp remains the best-selling item in the Post Office’s history.

It also later released a stamp booklet titled The Many Faces of Nelson Mandela. The booklet, which includes 10 stamps and two postcards, highlighted the many different roles Mandela has played throughout his life, from his early enthusiasm for boxing, to activist, political prisoner, first democratically-elected president of South Africa, and later revered international statesman, humanitarian and ambassador. All pictures in the booklet were taken by acclaimed photographer Alf Khumalo.

The Post Office’s senior manager of philatelic services Johan van Wyk said the future value of the Mandela birthday stamps would depend on the condition in which they were kept.

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