Nelson Mandela and the stamps of South Africa


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05 December 2013
nelson-mandela-stamp-91818.jpg Nelson Mandela Stamp
To mark the death of Nelson Mandela and to celebrate his incredible achievements, we examined the stamps of South Africa issued after the iconic leader was freed from prison in 1990, revealing how the nation's new-found hope was reflected on stamps

To mark the death of Nelson Mandela and to celebrate his incredible achievements, we examine the stamps of South Africa issued after the iconic leader was freed from prison in 1990, revealing how the nation's new-found hope was reflected on stamps…

1990 saw the beginning of the end for apartheid and white minority rule.

In February of that year restrictions on many opposition groups were lifted and Nelson Mandela was released after 27 years in prison. Following negotiations, a referendum in early 1992 led the white electorate to support FW de Klerk’s stance on changes of policy and government. It took until 1993, however, for an agreement on a Government of National Unity that allowed a partnership of the old regime and the previously unrepresented non-white population.

Rainbow nation

South Africa’s first democratic election was held in April 1994 and was won by the African National Congress (ANC) party. Nelson Mandela became President, with FW de Klerk and the ANC’s Thabo Mbeki as Deputy Presidents. The inauguration of President Mandela was marked with a set of stamps that included a portrait of the man himself.

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South Africa stampSouth Africa's post-apartheid stamps

The stamps issued since the political upheaval have remained high quality productions.

Unlike the stamps from the apartheid era, they have been very even-handed in celebration of all the nation’s citizens and their history. An excellent example is the 2000 issue illustrating authors who had written about the Boer war.

They featured Sol Plaatje, a black activist who was a founder member of the organisation that would become the ANC, Johanna Brandt (of Dutch origin), as well as Arthur Conan Doyle and Winston Churchill. Similarly, the 2001 sporting heroes issue featured such people as Ernie Els, Francois Pienaar, Lucas Radebe and Vuyani Bungu, while a 2003 stamp commemorated Shaka, the warrior king of the Zulu.

Such issues as these would not have been made in the apartheid era.


Inscriptions on South African stamps

Among changes that have taken place concerns the country’s inscription. The definitive series issued from 1993 to 1997 reverted to ‘Suid Afrika’ and ‘South Africa’, which was echoed by commemoratives until 1995 when they bore the inscription ‘RSA’. Most stamps issued from 1997 have been inscribed ‘South Africa’.

Since 1996 a number of stamps have had no value indicated but instead have inscriptions such as ‘STANDARD POSTAGE’, ‘STANDARDISED MAIL’ or ‘AIRMAIL POSTCARD RATE’, together with their Afrikaans equivalent.

A lengthy series of definitives from 1993 to 2000 consisted of illustrations of endangered fauna. There are some complexities due to redrawn values, changes in printing methods and perforations, and phosphor differences. Another extensive definitive series began in late 2000 depicting flora and fauna, with similar complexity. The latest definitive issue started in 2010, illustrating South African beadwork.

Tourism and the natural attractions of the country have featured in a number of South Africa’s stamp issues. The natural wonders of the country were well illustrated in a 2001 set of ten stamps, while stamps illustrating ‘The Big Five’ - South Africa’s greatest wild animals (the lion, the elephant, the leopard, the black rhinoceros and the buffalo) have been popular and featured in several issues. Birds too have been highlighted frequently, none better than the 1998 set of ten raptors.

South Africa Centenary stamps

The centenary of South Africa was marked in 2010 by a miniature sheet that illustrated the evolution of the country’s national coat-of-arms.

The stamp issuing policy of the Republic of South Africa has been similar to that of most other postal authorities from the 1960s to date. There have been an increasing number of issues, with growth in the number of miniature sheets and the use of self-adhesive stamps.

There is no doubt, though, that a collection of the Republic stamps is of great interest, both philatelically and to document the development of a country that has been more successful than most in transforming itself from repressive to democratic.

Read the full version of this article on South African stamps in the August 2013 issue of Stamp & Coin Mart, still available in digital format.