19 July 2012

Currency

The currency of South Africa is called the Rand, which means "ridge", and refers to the Whitwatersrand, a range of hills at about 1800 meters, running for a few hundred kilometers here toward the northeast of the country.  The Whitwatersrand is a vast resource of mineral wealth for the country, and it is estimated that nearly half of all the gold ever discovered on the planet comes from this area.  Much of the success of South Africa becoming the dynamo of the African economy is due to the mining that brought about the city of Johannesburg.

It was in 1961 when South Africa left the British Commonwealth, and became a Republic.  They decided to change their currency at the same time, away from the complicated British system of Pounds, Shillings and Pence, and the new currency they created was called the Rand.

Currently, the Rand is valued at about 12 cents US, which makes it somewhat difficult to grasp the prices of daily living.  It's a bit jarring to see prices in the stores, like 17 for a half gallon of milk (US$2), 55 for a movie ticket ($6.50) or 3500 for a television ($425).  But, prices for many things aren't too out of line with what I would pay at home once you convert them.

The smallest coin currently in circulation is the 5 cent piece, worth about half a penny US.  When paying with cash, they just round off to the nearest .05, but sometime this year they will discontinue the 5 cent piece, and then the 10 cent piece (just over a penny US) will be the smallest coin.  The bills go up to just 200 rand, which is not quite $25...there aren't any bills larger, and the 200 rand bills aren't even that popular because of counterfeiting.

The coins aren't terribly exciting, but the bills are colorful, and feature the "Big 5"safari animals found in the country.