PRETORIA (Reuters) - South Africa immortalized former president Nelson Mandela on Tuesday in a set of new banknotes bearing the image of the anti-apartheid leader, who remains a rare unifying force in a country still scarred by its racially divided past.
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 Johannesburg's swanky Sandton City mall is a daily attraction for tourists.
"Madiba does represent something special not just in South Africa but in the world," Reserve Bank Governor Gill Marcus said after using the new notes for the first time at her neighborhood fruit market in Pretoria.
"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, Marcus said.
(Reporting by Stella Mapenzauswa; Editing by Ed Cropley and Paul Casciato)