On an Artistic Note….

Note This: President Jacob Zuma with the new bank-note.

I have been wondering why it (is) was that I was never caught by the  “feverish” excitement over the introduction of  South African’s new bank notes, featuring the face of  former president Nelson Mandela and the big five. It  didn’t excite me. I managed to escape the new banks notes. Until this morning. I got chills when I received change with the new notes,  they look so familiar, so cheap, so worthless.

Reserve Bank governor Gill Marcus who  approved of the changes is quoted by the  South African Press Association (Sapa) saying  “We are proud to be able to honour South Africa’s struggle icon and first democratically elected president in this way,” she said in a statement.

I looked at the  crispy new green R10 rand note and wondered who designed it. It is indeed a work of art when you read the technical security features it has.  Here are its design features also listed in more detail here  on the  South African Reserve Bank Website.

1. Coat of Arms 

The South African Coat of Arms (i.e. the design or shield that is a special symbol of the Republic of South Africa) is used prominently in the top left-hand corner of all denominations. The Coat of Arms is also visible in the security thread, as a holographic (i.e. three-dimensional) image.

2. Colours

The dominant  Colours of the different denominations;

The dominant colours of the new banknotes remain the same as the colours on the current banknotes.
However, the colour of the R200 has changed to a yellow-orange to distinguish it from the R20 because the current two notes are too similar in colour.

  • R10: Green
  • R20: Brown
  • R50: Red
  • R100: Blue
  • R200: Yellow-orange

3.  The main (man) Motif

The image of former President Nelson Mandela is printed on the front of all new banknotes, as the main motif.

4. Languages.

English is used on the front of all denominations. The words “South African Reserve Bank” are translated into two official South African languages on the back of the new banknotes.

5.  Numerals

The banknote denomination numerals on the front, bottom right of the new banknotes are printed in colour-changing ink.

The Big Five animals are printed on the back of the new banknotes

  • R10: Rhinoceros
  • R20: Elephant
  • R50: Lion
  • R100: Buffalo
  • R200: Leopard

I got chills when I received the money in my hands because suddenly a thought occurred to me.  This is how it happens, this is where it starts, this is how you end up with 1, 000,000 CFA  note in Senegal, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Kenya, etcthat is worthless.    A million franc note that is not worth an actual  million.  Inflation;  we are in debt – in over our heads, we have to pay the debt somehow, someone has to pay for the FIFA 2010 Soccer World Cup, Rea Vaya, Gautrain, The new roads, the stadiums, the president’s Inkandla Residence. Someone has to pay for electricity, out-dated infrastructure; – public sector companies are all buckling under mal-administration, we are loosing, money, talent, people,hope.  But someone has to pay for all these services that we are not getting and it’s not going to be the Politician who put us in this debt-hole in the first place.  Someone has to pay. You and I .  We are already paying.

The printing and over-circulation of notes; – the more money you print, the more  you devalue its currency…. economics 101.   I mean  it’s a really cool thing to have our First Black Democratically elected presidents’ face on the  bank-notes I guess –  The UK has the Queen, the US has George Washington,  it’s really not a bad thing in and of itself.  It’s just I have seen how Mandela the “icon” has become a money-making machine;  a commercial entity exploited by well-meaning opportunists.

I don’t see how a picture of Madiba on a ten rand note that can’t buy you much these days is the best way to honour the man. really.  I think tata Madiba’s legacy  would be best honoured if the ten rand could buy you milk and bread.    But  bread is not even worth R10. In fact,  I think it might even have the opposite effect – it might generate more bitterness and hate from people  who are  desperate and unable to make  the ten rand note with Mandela’s face  on it buy what they need, you have a note but it buys you nothing.  I think Madiba’s legacy is more that what money can buy. But It could help if the money could buy something. Like this what I heard in the taxi recently:

“You know” Says the taxi driver to a passenger ” You see we used to think it was wrong for us to carry the dom -pass,  and be arrested if found without them” But now look at this ” We have too many foreigners, bagcwele, baningi la e South Africa”

The woman nods in agreement. “hmm”

” White people know how to govern abelungu bayakwazi ukuphatha”  he continues “even though we were suffering bekungcono ”  saying he thinks it was better to live under oppression that to live in this New South Africa. I am not embellishing the conversation, I am actually “editing” it to make it  less, intolerant.

“You see” He continues ” If they approve i – e-tolling, petrol will never go down, food will increase I mean, what do you think which one is cheaper travelling by car or in a taxi?”

The woman who takes the mini-bus taxi during the week and uses her private car on week-ends and at night to go to church meetings replies..

” No, I save a lot of money travelling by taxi.”  She says opening her bag to show the taxi driver her car-keys ” here they are, but I cannot afford to drive it anymore, I used to use diesel because diesel used to be cheap, but now  it’s all the same 5o rand doesn’t take you far”

So I shudder when I think of this happening now, when all around you see are people struggling to afford the basics of living, from the farms in the Western Cape to the mines in the North West, to Domestic Workers, Gardeners, free-lance artists, youth’s who have no work, workers who barely manage to survive… (selling amagwinya, vetkoeks at work) why at this point print the face of a  man who was once the only source  hope for a better future on paper that can’t even buy you a slice of bread.  Why stand in parliament demand respect for openly and without shame enriching yourself, saying that it  is was your own money that you are  using. When not so long ago you were on trial because your friend used corrupt practices  to lend you money,  when you were in debt.  When news headlines told of how you couldn’t afford to send your children to school.  In four years you have enough money to build for millions and millions of rands, five or more homes, build a private road to your homestead, marry a few wives have parties upon parties,  with no thought, not single thought to the ever-increasing  plight of people for whom you owe your position, millions upon millions,  still standing in line every day, waiting hoping for homes cheaper and shoddier  than the match boxes  built-in Meadowlands… at least they are still standing.

” See” a woman passenger in a taxi pointed out a  water leak inside  Bree’s taxi rank in Johannesburg ” this is government’s services delivery, our RDP houses are just like this, if not worse” She said shaking her head sadly.

I wonder of the wisdom behind it…. and think it is indeed – A classic case of an African Country gone wrong – Something is done  gone horribly wrong.  This way the white leaders will always look good, they will always be viewed with  sepia tinted glasses because at least as the taxi driver says “during apartheid, petrol was cheap, very cheap, we could afford it ”

NGO’s are waiting around the corner, standing by, for a wave of violent discontent, to assist the desperate and destitute  , left homeless, hungry and diseased…   black against black violence has already started in Marikana, now in Lenasia…. it is no longer the White people who are our enemies – we have become our own enemies.

I still don’t know who designed the new bank notes – but I guess  their legacy might last longer than a 50 rand note with Madiba’s face on it.

It was a chilly morning for me  on a Summers Day and it had nothing to do with the weather …


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