Mandela Coin Dilemma: To Spend or to Keep

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If you happen to be among the lucky ones who manage to get hands on one of the five million new R5 Mandela coin, would you trade it for a loaf – pardon, half-a-loaf of bread?

The hype surrounding the 1994 R5 Presidential Inauguration coin and the 2000 and R5 Nelson Mandela coin shows no signs of abating. The coins that the experts say are worth exactly five Rands each can sell for more than twenty times their value. The 90th birthday Nelson Mandela commemorative coin promises to create similar demand.

The authorities have made it clear to the public that the R5 Nelson Mandela coin, launched to coincide with Madiba’s 90th birthday on 18th July, is a normal legal tender. It pays tribute to a great man, and is not meant to be a collector’s item.

Five million 90th birthday Madiba coins have been minted. The conventional numismatic wisdom says that such a big number precludes it from ever becoming an “investment coin”.

However, nothing about the former South African president quite fits the conventional standards. By the process of association, everything related to Madiba - including coins with his likeness - seems to acquire a special aura. That is probably why the authorities felt it was necessary to urge South Africans to spend the new coin, rather than hoard it. "Do use it to buy goods and services”, said Reserve Bank Governor Tito Mboweni when announcing the launch of the new coin.

If the fate of the earlier coins associated with Nelson Mandela is anything to go by, anyone scrutinizing their change to find the 2008 Mandela coin in it will be probably disappointed.


The experts in the field of numismatics shake their heads. Certainly, there are several Mandela commemorative coins, minted in small numbers. Some of them may indeed appreciate considerably with time. There also Mandela medallions, which normally derive their value from the precious metals they were made out of.

Then there are ordinary Mandela coins, which is where things get really complicated. Johannesburg Coin Exchange experts explain that ordinary coins, meant to be used as legal tender in a country, are divided into three board categories: proofs, un-circulated and circulated coins.

Moreover, each category has several sub-categories and numerous degrees. To simplify, the proofs and uncirculated coins are fewer in number. The modern proofs are packed in boxes or plastic holders, and uncirculated coins come in laminated plastic.

Proofs and uncirculated coins are the categories where real treasure may reside. This is especially true of several rare Mandela coin proofs, which have been known to reach high prices, thus igniting the imagination of every Tom, Dick and Harry with a few coins jiggling in their pockets. 

Currently, a set of Nobel Prize laureates Mandela and de Klerk coins, described by the seller as “a very rare PF 70” is up for grabs for R750,000 or more at It is open for debate how much of the R750,000 asking price can be attributed to the Nelson Mandela 90th birthday commemorations. Only time can show whether that price tag is inflated or not.

In the eyes of true collectors, it is much more bewildering that ordinary circulated, or – as they are also known – second-hand R5 Mandela coins are vying for potential buyers alongside proofs and other pedigreed items, occasionally achieving ten or more times their “real” value.

Against such backgrounds, the odds are that the 2008 Mandela R5 coins will disappear from circulation and appear on and other trading places before the nation and the world have finished expressing best wishes to Madiba on his 90th birthday. To make things more interesting and give them an additional thrill, there are rumors that those caught trading in the new 90th birthday coin will be prosecuted.

Be that as it may, there is no doubt that most people feel like the blogger who goes by the name of “flxy”. “Why would you want to spend a coin that depicts Nelson Mandela, given the previous track record of circulation coins featuring Mandela”, says he (or she), and goes on to add: “ Surely, a coin depicting one of the greatest statesmen should be something that would endear itself to the holder?”

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