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At a presentation at the SA Reserve Bank, along with the bank's governor Gill Marcus and Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, Zuma said the use of Mandela's image was part of the recognition of the former president's role in the fight against apartheid, the liberation of the country and that he was recognised as a leader around the world.
"This humble gesture expresses our gratitude for a life spent in the service of this country," he said.
Saturday's date marks the 22nd anniversary of the release of Mandela after he spent 27 years in jail.
Marcus pointed out that the new notes would have enhanced security features, that they would be easier to read by the blind or partially sighted people and would be machine readable.
Marcus said the new banknotes would have similar dimensions to the current notes.
She pointed out that banknotes were only second in importance to a country's national flag.
Gordhan recalled where each of them spent the day Mandela was released - Zuma was in Zimbabwe, Marcus in London, and himself in an underground meeting. " This shows how far we have come as a country Gordhan said."
Marcus apologised for the confusion caused by the somewhat cryptic media invitation sent earlier this week about the press conference, saying there was no intention to mislead.
The current banknotes that depict the big five wild animals would continue as legal tender until they have been replaced by the new design at a date to be announced.