Special Krugerrands Mark the Parks 110th Birthday

It is not every day that a silver medallion is tossed into a river intentionally. Sydney Soundy, chief operating officer of SANParks, performed this symbolic gesture as part of the festivities of the Kruger National Park's (KNP) 110th birthday celebrations. Soundy and others were taken by tram to the middle of the old Sabie River bridge on the evening of the 2008 Krugerrand launch in Skukuza, from where he tossed the coin in the Sabie River.

Observers joined Soundy in a toast with bubbly, savouring the moment under the bright Lowveld stars and enjoying a rare view of Skukuza at night. The South African Mint launched the world's best-known gold coin - this year's Krugerrand - in the Selati restaurant in Skukuza on May 31, 2008, as part of the KNP's 110th birthday celebrations.

The evening began with a short, but inspiring performance by the world-renowned University of Purdue choir, based in Indiana in the United States of America (USA). The Kruger National Park choir continued to set the tone for the occasion, which was also marked by thoughts from the managing director of SA Mint, AM Mvinjelwa, the managing executive of the KNP, Dr Bandile Mkhize, and former head park warden, Dr Salomon Joubert.

Mike English, a previous section ranger in Kruger and Louis Olivier, present regional ranger in the Nxanatseni south region, entertained the guests with anecdotes past and present.

The guests also witnessed Soundy, Mkhize and other dignitaries mint their own silver coins. Both the Krugerrand and the KNP have their roots embedded on the vision of Stephanus Johannes Paulus (Paul) Kruger. Paul Kruger (1825 to 1904) was an enigmatic leader.

He embodied an intriguing mixture of stubbornness, ruthlessness, compassion, conservatism and pragmatism, all rolled into one. He was elected president of the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR) for four successions until his exile in 1901 after the Anglo-Boer war. After spending part of his exile in Holland, he died in Switzerland in 1904.

The 2008 celebrations shared the realisation of two of the former president's visions. One was his recognition for the need of the 'Republiek's' own currency and the other was to protect and preserve the dwindling herds of wildlife by proclaiming the establishment of a 'government reserve' in the Transvaal's (now known as Mpumalanga and Limpopo) eastern lowveld. According to Joubert the establishment of the KNP's forerunner, the Sabie Game Reserve, is extraordinary given the time and circumstances in which the proclamation occurred.

At the turn of the 19th century, president Kruger faced an influx of foreigners hoping to stake a claim in the dreams of wealth lurking in the new found gold deposits in what has become the greater Johannesburg area. They were demanding voting rights while the British imperial army staged, what turned out to be an unsuccessful raid, under Jameson.

People were also coping with the result of huge livestock and game die-offs due to a rinderpest panzootic that had swept the southern parts of Africa. Despite these pressures on the small republic, the president lent an ear to the pleas of men like Loveday to protect the wildlife of the Lowveld - a concept that was not the norm of the day. Both of Kruger's visions - that years later resulted in the Krugerrand and the proclamation of the KNP - were challenged by the Volksraad (government of the republic) and his political enemies, but the adamant and resilient president continued to pursue his beliefs.

Today the KNP is recognised as a global leader in the management of a protected area, while the Krugerrand is not only the oldest, but also the most traded commemorative gold coin in the world. "There are more Krugerrands in the United States (USA) than what there are eagles (the Krugerrand USA equivalent) in the rest of the world," said Natanya van Niekerk of SA Mint. Natanya's design of the Natura Coin Series won the prestigious award of "The world's most beautiful coin". This was announced at the 2008 Mint Directors Conference (MDC) which took place in Korea in May.

Every two years, the MDC is hosted in a different country to discuss world-wide currency manufacturing issues. At the same conference, coins of particularly high standard and innovative techniques are judged. This is the fourth time that the South African Mint's Gold Natura series is awarded this prestigious award. The Natura coin series concentrates on depicting South Africa's famous wildlife and was introduced in 1994 as South Africa's first 24 carat gold (999.9 Au) coin series. Every year a different South African animal is depicted on the series with the 2008 winning design (launched in 2006) depicting a giraffe.

The first legal tender gold coin without a denomination but linked to the daily gold price was struck at the SA Mint on July 3, 1967. It was a one-ounce troy, 22 carat gold coin called the Krugerrand and sold for the princely sum of R27. Today, a single 2008 Krugerrand will ask an investment of R10 700. The design of the 22ct gold Krugerrand was based on its historical predecessor, the Kruger ponde. "The obverse of the Krugerrand bears the effigy of president Kruger which was struck from the original die used in 1892 for the Kruger half-crown coins. The reverse of the Krugerrand portrays the springbok," says Natanya.

The reverse was designed and engraved by the world-famous South African Coert Steynberg. Steynberg also sculpted the large sculpture of Paul Kruger at the Kruger Gate entrance to the KNP. The special launch coin, of which only 600 have been minted, was manufactured especially to coincide with the KNP's 110th celebrations. This launch set consists of a mintmark one ounce fine gold (22 ct) Krugerrand and a sterling silver crown size commemorative medallion.

A limited edition of 400 special Krugerrand sets have been issued and consists of the four Krugerrands (one ounce, 1/2 ounce, 1/4 ounce and 1/10 ounce) and a silver medallion. "The SA Mint launch sets are usually reserved well before, but this time, the mint made an additional 110 launch sets available on offer for tourists who visit the park during its birthday celebrations in June." At the launch, the 110 dignitaries and guests each received one of only 110 special silver medallions to commemorate the occasion.

By Lynette Strauss

Kruger National Park - South African Safari