We ended the month of July on a sombre note as we not only said goodbye to a dear friend and colleague, the late Arthur Sithole, but also had to close the factory again due to the overbearing COVID-19 risk in Gauteng, which is now the epicentre of the pandemic.

Our experiences have however shown us how resilient we are as a team, and how we unite in the face of adversity.

Moving with the times

On 28 July 2020, we hosted our very first virtual VOICE Forum which was a sounding success. Only her second staff meeting since her appointment as Managing Director, Honey Mamabolo, paved the way with a heartfelt welcome to staff members and closed with a reminder of what the South African Mint’s values mean for all us in this time of global turmoil.

We had our usual quarterly Finance, SHEQ, Manufacturing and Sales and Marketing updates, before Gawie Herholdt congratulated our worthy Excellence Awards winners. Despite our physical separation, this forum was in many ways more interactive than we have had before. Colleagues, who tested positive for and recovered from the Coronavirus, shared their experiences with us. Contributing in destigmatising the disease, alleviating fears and giving us hope, that full recovery is possible.

Many could also relate to the colleagues who conveyed their learnings and challenges with either working from home, on-site or even those who followed a hybrid routine of coming on-site on some days and working from home on others.

The introduction of the surveying tool, Mentimetre, added to the success of this first virtual event. It allowed everyone to participate in the proceedings and comment or ask questions anonymously during the course of the meeting. Thank you to all the employees that participated in this inaugural virtual event.

Thank you Minters!

While the Mint officially closed on 17 July 2020, a small group of employees continued working on-site to ensure that the Eswatini order was packed and dispatched as scheduled on 29 July 2020. The Gold Room also remained operational until 31 July 2020 to produce Bullion and pack and dispatch Collectable orders. Security staff were on duty to safeguard employees and the company’s valuable assets.

A big thank you to all employees who gave on-site support while we were officially closed. We value your contribution and appreciate the dedication you have shown through these challenging times.

Many employees have been working from home for over four months now, and no doubt the change has been a great one to overcome. Our sincere gratitude to you too for your commitment, resilience and cooperation.

From concept to coin – How coins are designed

Last month we travelled through the history of the South African currency, and now we’d like to take you on a coin making journey starting with how coins are designed.

Coins say a lot about a country because they celebrate its people, heritage, nature and culture. Go ahead and pull a coin out of your pocket and take a good long look at it. You see it often at the Mint, but do you really know how the design came to be on that coin?

Read on to see how the design moves swiftly from concept to coin…


The coin designing process starts with numerous concept designs which explore the visual representation of the theme through different compositions of the chosen elements. Once this is done. The Mint’s artists either create digital 3D models and renders, or manipulate photographs or digital illustrations, or create artwork using pencil, charcoal or water colour, in accordance to their preferences, to create a detailed design.

The completed coin design then goes through a rigorous signing-off process which includes the following bodies, in this order:

  • The South African Mint board
  • The Governors’ Executive Council of the South African Reserve Bank
  • The Cabinet of the Republic of South Africa and
  • The Minister of Finance
  • The approved design is then published in the Government Gazette
Lilian Guerra
“When designing a coin you always reference the past while attempting to create a design which informs on the time and place we live in today. This opens up a wonderful opportunity to explore and discover the different perspectives of a country’s history, the cultural heritage of its people and their stories and the natural or constructed world they live in. It offers endless possibilities to better understand the world we live in.”– Lilian Guerra

Once the coin design is approved and gazetted, an engraver recreates the coin design using modelling clay applied to a glass plate, to make a three-dimensional model of it. This scrupulous and technical task takes about three weeks to complete, and requires highly-specialised skills as this model must contain as much detail as possible.

This sculptural process has been used for decades at the South African Mint and remains the preferred method of creating relief models. However, as digital sculpting software develops, digital tools are increasingly used to compliment and in some cases replace the hand modelling process.

Vincent Chipa.jpg
“It’s an exciting feeling to do the modelling from a coin design because I always image what the actual coin will look like. The coin I enjoyed working on the most was the common obverse of the Protea – Life of a Legend series, which features Nelson Mandela in his designer shirt, with protea flowers below his bust. It was my first model of our former President and I executed it with pride, feeling part of his history with me while I modelled.” – Vincent Chipa, Senior Engraver

A plaster version of the model is then transferred onto a computer using a high-resolution scanner, which maps the contours of the model section by section, using extremely sensitive technology. Once the model is scanned, the engraver can remove imperfections and add finishing touches to the digitised plaster model. At this stage the typographic elements are added to the model as is the landing of the coin-. The finished digital model of the coin represents what the coin will look like once it is minted, and it is reviewed to make sure it can be physically produced on the Mint’s coining presses.


Once the coin model is completed, a computer-controlled machine cuts the model directly into a piece of high-grade steel and creates what is known as the machine punch. An engraver sands and polishes the engraved steel and it is then used to strike a matrix.


The machine punch is struck onto a block of steel to create a negative impression of the model, called a matrix. The image on the matrix is always a negative or sunken image. This is then used to strike the master. It is safely stored away as an archival reference and for reproduction of masters for that coin.


The matrix is struck onto a block of steel, similar to the previous step, to create a positive embossing of the design, known as a master punch. The image on the master punch is always a positive or raised image. The master punch is then used to strike the production dies that will be used to mint coins.


Coin dies can be considered as stamps which will be used to imprint the designs onto the coin blank. The die is struck from the master punch, and the image on the die is always a negative or sunken image. This way, when the coins are struck, the final product has positive or raised details.


Various finishes can be applied to the production dies depending on the use of the coins produced. Circulation coins have a uniform surface finish applied to both the reverse and the obverse dies. On collectable coins the application of various finishes has become a part of the creative process of designing a coin. Laser engraving machines are used to create a variety of finishes which can be selectively and accurately applied to create a range of shades or textures on different elements within a design.


Earlier during the die preparation process, before most of the working dies are created, test strikes are conducted to minimise manufacturing and final product problems. The final production dies are now ready for the production process.

“I did the modelling, engraving and laser finishing on the collectable coin that won the 2019 Coin of the Year – Best Contemporary Event Award, the R2 Heart Transplant coin, and it feels great to be part of a team that can compete on the international arena. What people don’t know about my job is that the design work is software based and relief modelling is done both in clay and in software, so one needs artistic ability, good eyesight, fine motor skills and lots of patience in this work. We also need machine knowledge to be able to programme and operate the various machines we use.” – Paul Botes, Senior Engraver
Kids, design your own coin!

Being cooped up in the house due to the national lockdown and the harsh winter weather is probably not doing any good for the kids’ creativity. Keep their imagination alive and help them unleash their inner artist with our coin design activity!

Click here to download activity.

What happens after the coin is designed?

Now that we know how the coin design evolves and the production dies are ready – what happens next?

Next month we will take you through the manufacturing process…