Here is what the rand looked like 60 years ago – And how it has changed

The rand celebrated its sixtieth anniversary on 14 February 2021 and has had a turbulent journey over the last six decades.

The story of the rand started in 1956 when South Africa established the Decimal Coinage Commission to look at South Africa’s currency.

At the time South Africa was still a British colony, and as such operated under the British tender of pounds, shillings, and pence.

On 8 August 1958, the commission recommended replacing the British Pound with a new currency named “rand.”

The name comes from the word “Witwatersrand” – the area where most of South Africa’s gold deposits were found and where Johannesburg was built.

The rand replaced Pound Sterling as legal tender in South Africa on 14 February 1961.

Rand 1961

The launch of the rand came less than four months before South Africa declared itself a republic and leaving the Commonwealth of Nations on 31 May 1961.

When the rand made its debut in 1961 it traded at R2 to the pound and R0.72 to the US dollar.

Only R1, R2, R10, and R20 banknotes were issued and coins included the 1/2c, 1c, 2 1/2c, 5c, 10c, 20c and 50c.

South African coins 1961

To assist South Africans to become comfortable with the new decimal monetary system, the government introduced a mascot called Decimal Dan “the rand-cent man”.

Decimal Dan was accompanied by a radio jingle to inform the public about the new currency and how it related to the previous system.

In the sixties and seventies, the rand was fairly stable against major currencies and during this period reached a high of R1.40 to the pound.

Political instability and pushback from international institutions against the apartheid system caused the currency to rapidly lose value in the eighties.

Since then, there was a consistent weakening of the rand against major currencies like the British pound and US dollar.

With a much weaker currency and high inflation, South Africa’s coin denominations received a makeover in the late eighties.

These new coins featured imprints of plants and animals instead of Jan van Riebeeck.

SA coins

The country went through a rapid political transformation in the early nineties with the dismantling of the apartheid system and the introduction of a democratic system.

As part of this transformation, new banknotes were launched in 1992, with the Big 5 replacing Jan van Riebeeck on the notes.

Rand banknotes 1992

Political uncertainty in the early nineties caused the rand to weaken significantly against major currencies.

In January 1990, the rand traded at R2.55 to the US dollar. By April 1994 it had weakened to R3.48 to the greenback.

In 1994, the R5 coin was introduced, commemorating the inauguration of the first democratically elected President, Nelson Mandela.

R5 inauguration coin

Between 1994 and 2000 the rand continued to weaken and at the end of the decade, it was trading at R6.14 to the US dollar.

The next few years were a very volatile period for the rand where it weakened to over R13.00 to the dollar and then strengthened again to below R6.00.

In 2004, the R5 coin received a bi-metal makeover to enhance security features.

Mandela R5 coin

During former President Jacob Zuma’s reign, the rand was one of the global currencies with the wildest swings.

It steadily decreased in value between 2010 and 2015, and then it spiked in 2015 after Zuma removed Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister and replaced him with ANC backbencher Des van Rooyen.

It recovered after Pravin Gordhan replaced Van Rooyen after only a few days, but started to weaken again and peaked at over R19/USD last year following the COVID-19 pandemic.

USD ZAR exchange rate

In 2012, President Nelson Mandela was honoured on the front of the banknotes, while the ‘Big Five’ animals were retained on the back.

On 13 July 2018, the SARB launched the first series of commemorative banknotes in honour of President Nelson Mandela’s birth centenary.

In June 2021, the SARB will launch the new R5 coin, commemorating the SARB’s centenary.

Mandela banknotes

Now read: The rand is 60 years old today – Here is how much South Africans paid for coffee, bread, and beer in 1961

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Here is what the rand looked like 60 years ago – And how it has changed