Pretoria — Reserve Bank Governor Gill Marcus on Tuesday became the first person to use the country's new bank notes bearing the face of former President Nelson Mandela at a Pretoria green grocer.
The new banknotes officially come into use today and will replace the old banknotes. Some of the changes include a watermark and a rolling bar. The idea behind it is if the note is lifted to the light, it has a raised print and an image of the "big five" behind it.
Shopping for her vegetables and fruit at the Housewives Market shop at Glen Gables shopping centre in Lynnwood Ridge, the governor's shopping basket included items like watermelon and almonds.
Marcus has shopped at the store for over 30 years. Jose Luis de Freitas, the shop owner, said: "I feel very excited and grateful."
Excited shoppers and onlookers were keen to get their hands on the new colourful notes. The public, said the governor, should look for several security features on the new notes including the raised print, and change to the colour of the note if lifted and exposed to the light.
"That is what we would like everybody to be familiar with so they know that they have a real note," she said, adding that the old notes - although being currently in the process of being phased out - will remain legal tender.
"They will co-circulate. So whichever one you use, is [ok]," said Marcus.
The notes are in the same denominations of R10; R20; R50; R100 and R200 notes. The old notes will also be replaced in countries that use South African currency like Angola.
For the visually impaired, the notes feature a different flash for each denomination, starting with one flash on the R10 and up to five flashes on the R200 note.
For eager South Africans wanting to get their hands on the new notes, these would start becoming available during the day.
"During the day, they will start to come through. They only started to load the new notes last night and this morning. They will start to come through," she said as she was about to pay De Freitas.
The security features around bank notes are upgraded every seven years, according to best practice, given that countries want to protect the integrity of their currencies.
"So there's a difference in doing a redesign which we've done and introduce a new redesigned note. The new note has been in design for 20 years, while the previous one was done in 1992. We felt it was time to reflect a new image that builds us. Everyone is excited about the new notes."
Marcus said the former President was happy with the new notes.
"Madiba does represent something special not just in South Africa but in the world. He's really an extraordinary man and this is a way in which we pay tribute to him, he's delighted about it. I think it's a great day for South Africa."
Asked about whether the use of cards was bypassing the use of cash, the governor said this was not the case.
"Although there's a move to the use of cards, what you're seeing is that the use of cash has not diminished, in fact it grows. So we still giving a 10% plus increase in the use of cash," she explained.
In December 2011, the total use of notes was about a R102 billion in circulation.
"We have to produce the same amount as we swop out. We will continuously replace the old notes with the new notes."