How South Africa’s banknotes have changed: 1994 to 2023

 ·20 Jun 2023

Since 1994, South Africa has seen three notable changes to its banknotes, which included alterations to the notes’ visual features, sizing, and language.

Over the almost 30-year period, South Africa’s banknotes represent the value of five denominations – R10, R20, R50, R100, and R200.

Interestingly, according to the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) ’s archives, South Africa had released over seven issues of banknotes in the country, with the first issue coming along when South Africa gained independence and became a republic in 1961.

This first issue replaced the pound and was titled ‘Jan van Riebeeck’; the rand denominations issued were the R1, R2, R10, and R20.

Rand denominations of R5 and R50 were added in the second (1966 to 1977) and third issues (1978 to 1991), titled ‘Jan van Riebeeck and Protea’.

The picture below shows samples of the R2 and R5 banknotes released in the third issue.

Post ApartheidThe Big Five (1992-2011)

The most drastic change came in 1992 when the fourth issue, ‘Big Five’, was released.

The green (R10), brown (R20) and red (R50) colour schemes of the old rand notes were maintained, with blue and orange being introduced for the R100 and R200 notes. The old R2 and R5 notes were discontinued and replaced with coins.

The post-apartheid notes depicted the “Big Five” tourist attractions in South Africa on the obverse, while the reverse sides feature images which reflect South Africa’s major industries.

In 2005, the South African Reserve Bank issued updated rand notes (fifth issue), incorporating new security features, slight changes to the note designs, and adding South Africa’s eleven official languages to the notes.

These new notes now included and still include Afrikaans, English, isiSwati, isiNdebele, Setswana, Tshivenda, isiXhosa, Sepedi, Xitsonga, Sesotho, and isiZulu.

Nelson Mandela (2012 to present)

In 2012, the SARB announced the release of the sixth issue, ‘Nelson Mandela’.

The new notes maintained the colour schemes of the old rand notes, except for the R200 note, which was considered too similar to the R20 note, and was changed to a yellow-orange colour.

The new notes also maintained the wildlife theme of the Big Five (rhinoceros, elephant, lion, buffalo, leopard), although the animals are now portrayed on the reverse of the note.

The significant change to these notes was the placement of Nelson Mandela’s portrait on the obverse side, where the Big Five were historically placed, and the banknotes were nicknamed the “randela” notes.

New security features have also been added to the notes, including watermarks, see-through perfect print registration (having an image partially displayed on the front and back of the note so that it appears whole when held up to the light), features for the visually impaired, security thread, latent imaging and the use of colour-changing ink.

Nelson Mandela Centenary

In 2018, the SARB announced and released a once-off seventh issue, ‘Nelson Mandela Centenary’.

These commemorative banknotes are issued to celebrate a significant event, icon, or issue of a particular country.

This was the SARB’s first and only launch of a series of commemorative banknotes into circulation in celebration of the centenary of the birth of former president Nelson Mandela on 18 July 2018.

The banknotes highlight President Mandela’s historical journey from the Eastern Cape rolling hills to Soweto, Howick, Robben Island, and Union Buildings.

2023 update

On 3 May, the SARB announced an update to the Nelson Mandela banknotes, making it the eighth issue of a new banknote.

The upgraded banknotes came with enhanced security features and new designs; however, the broad themes for the notes remain the same as the randela notes issued in 2012.

The banknotes continue to pay tribute to South Africa’s first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela, with his portrait retained on the front of the banknotes. At the same time, the Big Five animals are now illustrated as a family on the back.

The notes also highlight South Africa’s constitutional democracy with the preamble to the South African Constitution printed in micro text around Madiba’s portrait and the country’s flag featured on the front and the back of the banknotes.

The note colouring is also slightly deeper – particularly the R50 notes, which lean more towards purple than the pink colouration before.

Font – old (left) and new (right)

Back – old (left) and new (right)

Read: The big problems South Africa just can’t seem to shake

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