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Money in South Africa

Meet the South African currency – the rand! It’s symbolized with a capital “R”, or the letters “ZAR”, and is denominated into notes – R10, R20, R50, R100 and R200 – which feature Africa’s Big Five animals, and coins – 1c, 2c, 5c, 20c, 50c, R1, R2 and R5 – which feature other African animals, the national seal, and certain indigenous plants.

The R5 coin comes in two casts – with a raised, serrated circumference and without – and is often used for commemorations. Count your lucky stars if you find one featuring the face of Nelson Mandela, the Union Buildings, or a soccer player in action.

Both the notes and coins increase in size as their value goes up (that is, an R10 note is shorter than an R20 note, etc.), and meanwhile the 1c and 2c coins have largely fallen out of use, with many retailers simply rounding down to the nearest R0.05.

What is the rand worth?

The rand’s value has fluctuated wildly over the past ten years. It has been as strong as R4 to the US dollar, and as weak as R16 to the dollar, but since about 2004 has been hovering in the region of R5-R8 to the dollar. Most forecasts predict that it will remain in this range at least through 2010, though some think it may strengthen a bit.

  • Best currency converter (lists ZAR in its main table):

Currently (April 2006), $1 US will buy you a muffin in South Africa (but not a very fancy one); an Aussie dollar a newspaper; €1 a cup of coffee; £1 a cup of coffee and a newspaper; and ¥100 takes us back into muffin territory. For $100, you can get a case of good Shiraz (12 bottles); 100 Aussie dollars a trip for three to Robben Island; €100 flies you on a budget airline to Joburg (one-way); £100 a night in a four-star hotel; and ¥10,000 a dinner for two at a sushi bar, with sake.

  • Most travellers to South Africa, in Your Correspondent’s experience, find its goods and services reasonably-priced, but not cheap. It’s thus important to look for bargains during your trip here, and to budget realistically ahead of time!

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