The announcement pays tribute to the legacy of a Nobel Peace Prize-winner known as one of the world’s greatest statesmen.
But it will likely be met with some derision when markets re-open Monday after officials’ billing of the secretive unveiling as an “announcement of national importance” sent the rand and stock markets on a downward spike Friday.
“It is my honour and pleasure to announce that new South African bank notes will bear the image of president Mandela, the first president of a free, democratic South Africa,” President Jacob Zuma told a press conference in Pretoria.
The notes bear the 93-year-old former president’s image circa 1990, the year he was freed from prison in a moment that came to symbolise the fall of apartheid and the rise of a new, democratic South Africa.
They replace a design featuring the “big five” safari animals — Cape buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion and rhino — introduced in 1992, two years before Mandela was elected the country’s first black president.
All five notes — 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 rand ($1.29 – $25.80, 0.98 – 19.60 euros) — will now bear Mandela’s face on the front. Officials would not say what design would be on the back.
Zuma praised the former president’s legacy, calling him “Madiba,” the clan name by which he is affectionately known.
“It needed a president like Madiba to lead a bruised nation like ours on a journey of forgiveness and reconciliation, and he acquitted himself exceptionally well, as he has always done in every aspect of his life.”
Mandela, whose public appearances have grown rare as he has become increasingly frail, was not present at the unveiling.
He also missed the funeral Saturday of his last surviving sibling, Makhulu Nothusile Bhulehluthi (born Nokuthamba Mandela), who died January 28.
Central bank governor Gill Marcus said Mandela had seen the notes and was “delighted”.
That sentiment will not likely be shared by investors who sold off rand and equity in a frenzy of speculation Friday after the president’s office announced a secretive press conference of “national importance” to be addressed by Zuma, Marcus and Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.
The rand fell 2.2 percent Friday afternoon to 7.75 to the dollar, and stocks ended down 1.1 percent.
“I’m not sure why you would assume — that the rumours and the assumptions were such that there would be a terrible announcement today. It just shows you how little we look forward to good news,” Marcus said Saturday.
“I regret that there was confusion, but I’m not sure that it was driven by us.”
She said the new design had cost 2.5 million rand.
Marcus said it is standard international practice for countries to upgrade their bank notes’ security and design every six to eight years, and that South Africa had last enhanced security measures on its notes in 2005.