Did you know the South African Post Office prints about 380 million postage stamps a year? So says the post office's Johan van Wyk, wasting no time in warning his audience: "I love what I do and can talk about it for hours." The Post Office chose the Kruger National Park as the place to launch its new Big Five postage stamps. "These are not entirely new," said Johan.
"We decided to change the look and feel a bit and asked photographers Koos van der Lende and Michael Viljoen to come up with a new design." Johan knew he was in Big Five territory when Skukuza Primary School pupils, who also attended the launch, swiftly highlighted the differences between a leopard and a cheetah and black rhino and white rhino. According to Johan, the Post Office issues definitive and commemorative stamps.
The definitive postage stamps are now in their seventh series and were last issued in 2000. Definitive series usually run for about five to seven years and the next series, with the theme South African beadwork, is due in 2007. Commemorative stamps are stamps specifically designed to celebrate events or themes.
Johan's passion for stamps is echoed by many people around the world – about 30 million to his knowledge - and he explained how people express their passion in what is known as philately: " the collection and study of postage stamps, postmarks and related materials."
"Stamps are South Africa's smallest ambassadors." They are seen by many and reflect the various elements and aspects of a country – its history, natural heritage, culture, sport, people, and more. Johan says the Post Office has about 15 freelance artists who design stamps. "We are always on the lookout for more artists who can contribute to the designs, but need people with special skills as this miniature art is really not easy to do."
All South African stamps are printed abroad as it requires a specialised process similar to that used to print money. Johan handed a special framed Big Five booklet to Norman Sanderson who accepted it on behalf of the managing director, Dr Bandile Mkhize.