South Africa is known for its complicated history, stunning vistas, rich musical heritage, inspiring leaders like Nelson Mandela, and even for its currency, the colorful rand.

While South Africa gained independence as a sovereign nation from Britain many years prior, the country was still a part of the commonwealth until 1961, when the Republic of South Africa was proclaimed.

It was upon this declaration that South Africa adopted the decimal system and moved on from British pound, instituting the rand as the country’s official currency.

Introducing the South African Rand

Rand (ZAR, R) is the national currency of South Africa. It is broken up into cents and can be distributed as both coins and banknotes.

The South African Reserve Bank (SARB) is the primary bank that issues and distributes South African’s money. The bank is actually celebrating its 100th birthday this year in 2021.

Since introducing the rand in 1961, the SARB has controlled the creation of coins and banknotes for the currency. Between 1961 and 1989 there was some shifting of the initial rand coins. The original banknotes were also re-released various times over the years.

The coins currently in circulation are divided into series by color:

  • Red: includes 1 cent, 2 cent, and 5 cent coins. These coins feature birds and are made with a steel core plated with copper alloy;
  • Yellow: includes 10 cent, 20 cent, and 50 cent coins. These coins feature flowers and are made with a steel core plated with copper and tin;
  • White: includes 1 rand, 2 rand, and 5 rand coins. These coins feature antelopes and are made with copper core plated with nickel.

The rand banknotes currently in circulation feature Nelson Mandela on the front and one of the ‘Big Five’ wild animals on the back:

  • R 10 note – green with a rhinoceros;
  • R 20 note – brown with an elephant;
  • R 50 note – red with a lion;
  • R 100 note – blue with a cape buffalo;
  • R 200 note – orange with a leopard.

Banknotes released in 2018 as a “Nelson Mandela Centenary” feature various images of Nelson Mandela on the back at different stages of his life instead of the Big Five animals. These include Nelson Mandela at his birthplace, at his home in Soweto, and more.

Five Fun Facts About South African Rand

The rand has a rich history. Here are the 5 key facts about South Africa’s currency:

1. Rand banknotes feature multiple languages.

As South Africa has eleven national languages, each of them is featured on at least one of the rand banknotes currently in circulation.

On the R 10 note there is English, Afrikaans, and SiSwati, while on the R 200 note you’ll find English, Sesotho, and isiZulu, for example. The eleven languages include English, Afrikaans, isiSwati, isiNdebele, Setswana, Tshivenda, isiXhosa, Sepedi, Xitsonga, Sesotho, and isiZulu.

2. The first currency in South Africa was Dutch.

In 1782 the first paper money brought into Cape Town, the primary trading post, was the Dutch guilder currency. This was used prior to Great Britain taking control of the region and bringing the pound and shilling.

3. The SARB allows all old currency banknotes to remain in circulation.

These include those that feature the Big Five animals, which were a part of the fifth issue of rand banknotes, in addition to the seventh issue with Nelson Mandela.

4. The commemorative R 100 banknote features a prison.

Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island for 18 years, and an image of this prison is featured on the 100 rand banknote.

5. The rand got its name from the landscape.

The South African currency name is derived from the word “Witwatersrand” which was the name of the high escarpment upon which Johannesburg, one of the capital cities, is located.

More About South Africa

South Africa today has three capital cities (one administrative, one judicial, and one legislative). It also gave rise to the beloved Nelson Mandela (colloquially known as Madiba) the anti-apartheid revolutionary who became the first non-white president of modern South Africa.

South Africa is also renowned for its landscape, from wine country to the Cape of Good Hope to safaris in Kruger National Park.

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