The Bank of Namibia recently announced that on 21 March 2012, a new series of banknotes will be launched to the nation. This announcement has attracted various reactions from different individuals at different platforms. Ndangi Katoma, the Bank’s Director of Strategic Communication shed more light and offers answers to various expressed concerns.

Q: What prompted the decision to design new banknotes that will be launched on 21 March 2012?

NK: The design and introduction of the new series of banknotes to be launched by His Excellency Hifikepunye Pohamba, President of the Republic of Namibia on 21 March 2012 in Mariental, was necessitated by the need to incorporate state-of-the-art security features on our banknotes. This is to ensure that Namibia’s banknotes are not vulnerable to potential counterfeiters. You may recall that the current Namibia Dollar banknotes specifically the N$10, N$50 and N$100 banknotes were first issued in 1993. The current N$20 and N$ 200 notes were later added in 1996. According to currency industry practice, the security features of banknotes are reviewed and upgraded regularly, normally after approximately 8 years. Given that, upgrading our banknotes after 19 years of independence is certainly an imperative requirement.

Q: The features on some of the new banknotes are going to change where Kaptein Hendrik Witbooi’s portrait will be replaced by that of Dr Sam Nujoma. It is particularly this aspect that attracted divergent views from some people. Why is this necessary and what will such a decision mean to the psyche of the nation?

NK: It is correct that a number of security features will be changed on the new banknotes. One of the new security features on two banknotes (N$10 and N$20) is the portrait of His Excellency Dr Sam Nujoma, replacing that of Kaptein Hendrik Witbooi. This decision was made by Cabinet in recognition of the critical role the Founding President has played in the struggle for national independence. Dr. Nujoma was also instrumental in the establishment of the Bank of Namibia.

As to what this decision mean to the psyche of the nation, it is vital to clarify that replacing Kaptein Hendrik Witbooi on the N$10 and N$20 should not be viewed to imply that his contribution to the struggle against foreign occupation of our country is no longer valued. The historical reality is that, indeed, Kaptein Hendrik Witbooi will always remain one of Namibia’s highly celebrated heroes of our anti-colonial resistance as boldly recorded in our sacred history and his portrait remains on the rest of the new banknotes, namely the N$50, N$100 and N$200 denominations. The change of the portrait on the N$10 and N$20 should therefore be viewed in the spirit of continuing to honour and recognise people who made personal sacrifices at different times of the long and bitter road to our freedom and independence. Dr Sam Nujoma is one of the living examples of such individuals amidst us.

Q: Is it a common practice to have portraits of too many people on the banknotes and is it appropriate to have portrait of living people on the banknote of the country or Namibia is trying to be unique?

NK: It is indeed a common practice elsewhere. Many countries honour their heroes and heroines in the same manner. Not far from here, our neighbouring country, South Africa has just announced on 11 February 2012 that the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) is in the process of producing a new South African Banknote series bearing the portrait of former South African President, Nelson Mandela, expected to be issued towards the end of 2012. Botswana, another neighbor, has five different portraits on their banknotes. The current family of banknotes in Botswana was launched in August 2009. Like Namibia, Botswana (Pula) banknote family includes five notes in a denomination structure comprising of P10, P20, P50, P100 and P200. Each of these notes bears a different portrait, with the portrait of the current President, His Excellency President Lt General Seretse Khama Ian Khama on the front side of the P10, while that of the founding President, Sir Seretse Khama is on the P50. Examples from far, the United States one –dollar bill ($1), the most common denomination of US currency bears the portrait of the first President, George Washington since 1869. So there is nothing unique about what Namibia is doing in honouring our heroes this way.

Q: What is the legal basis of introducing new notes and what is the role of the Bank of Namibia in this regard?

NK: The upgraded banknotes will be issued in accordance with the provisions of the Bank of Namibia Act, (Act No.15 of 1997, as amended). In terms of Section 19 (2) of the said Act, the Board of the Bank of Namibia, with the approval of the Minister of Finance, determines the denominations, composition, form, design and characteristics of the notes and coins to be issued by the Bank. That is the legal basis of introducing the new banknotes.

Q: Why will the new notes be launched in March but will only be issued in May and what will happen to the current banknotes in circulation?

NK: While Namibians should look forward to the launch of the second generation of Namibia banknotes on 21 March 2012, it is vitally important for the public to note that the upgraded banknotes will only be circulated in the market in May 2012. There are two main reasons for this. First, it is simply to allow commercial banks to ensure that they have adjusted and tested their systems. This will ensure that they finalize all logistical arrangement pertaining to handling of the new notes before issuance. Second, this will allow the Bank of Namibia to conduct information campaign and create necessary awareness about the security features on the new banknotes before they are issued in the market.

As to what will happen to the current banknotes after the new banknotes issued in the market, both the newly launched and the current (old) banknotes will be accepted as legal tender in the payment for goods and services until the old banknotes are phased out over time.

Q: Anything you want to say further on this?

NK: I just want to request members of the public to report any new designed banknotes circulated in the market before they are issued in May 2012, to the Bank of Namibia or the nearest Police Station. This is important to prevent any counterfeits. PF