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Two sparrows on the Humblest Coin in South Africa
- Author: Jeanette du Toit
- Saturday, 12 November 2016
Women survivors of Boer War Concentration Camps petitioned Prime Minister Jan Smuts to place the emblem of the humble sparrow on South Africa’s humblest coin. The coin would serve as a re- minder of our worth in the eyes of God
South Africa used to have a 1-cent coin, but they don’t make them anymore. I remember on the 1-cent coin was 2 sparrows.
There’s a beautiful story about human worth that comes out of the ugliness of war. During the second Anglo-Boer War (South African War) of 1899-1902, the English were struggling to defeat the Boers who had adopted guerrilla warfare tactics. One effective way to demoralise the Boers was for the English to round up all the women and children living on farms and put them into concentration camps and then burn the farms to the ground. The conditions in the concentration camps were dismal and thousands of women and children died.
Also known as the Camp of Hell, the Anglo-Boer War concentration camp in Bethulie was defined by misery and abuse. Within 13 months, 1734 inmates, mainly women and children, kept here by the British, died in the most terrible conditions – the camp was flooded several times; snow storms caused the tents to collapse; overcrowding caused the rapid spread of diseases; there was starvation, polluted water, and inadequate medical care, to name but a few.
The women and children suffered very badly in these camps, but in each camp the woman chose a verse from the Bible to encourage one another not to give up. The theme for Bethulie concentration camp in the south of the Orange Free State was Matthew 10: 29-31. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
After this ugly war, the woman asked the then prime minister, General Jan Smuts, to get the emblem of the sparrow (also known as a mossie in South Africa) onto the lowest coin, to thank God that they had survived the war and to remind the men and women of South Africa of their true worth in God’s eyes.
That is how, when South Africa got its first coins in 1923, two sparrows were emblazoned in the rear of the farthing. It was later put on the halfpenny and then onto the half cent. Eventually, before it was withdrawn from circulation, the two sparrows could still be seen on the 1-cent coin.
As far as is known, this made South Africa the only country in the world to symbolise a Bible verse on one of its coins
The Cape Odyssey
Internet: various text and images