The first banknotes featuring the face of Nelson Mandela, the former South African President, have gone into circulation.

The banknote, launched on Tuesday, is the first South African note to bear the image of a black person, featuring Mandela's image on one side while the other side maintains the "big five" wild animals, already on the bills.

The government announced the new notes earlier this year on the 22nd anniversary of Mandela's release from prison after serving 27 years for his opposition to white-minority rule.

The 94-year-old, who became South Africa's first black president in 1994, rarely appears in public now but is still
revered both at home and abroad and held up as a symbol of freedom, human rights and democracy.

Popularly known by his clan name "Madiba", Mandela has lent his name to roads, buildings and universities, and a giant bronze statue of him in Sandton City mall, Johannesburg.

Reserve Bank governor Gill Marcus was the first to use the new banknotes - she spent 160 rand, about $18, at her local shop in the capital, Pretoria.

"Madiba does represent something special not just in South Africa but in the world," Marcus said.

"He is really an extraordinary man and this is a way in which we pay tribute to him."

The notes also feature South Africa's "big five" wild animals - rhino, elephant, lion, buffalo and leopard.

The new notes will be used in conjunction with the existing currency, which will be gradually phased out.

Source: Agencies