South African Rand

The rand (ZAR) is the official currency of the Republic of South Africa. The recent history of this former colonial country has been marked by political turmoil. This territory, at the very south of the continent was first colonised by traders from the Dutch East India Company. The British took over gradually around the turn of the 18th and 19th Century. But this proud territory always seemed determined to assert its independence from these unwanted colonial masters, and the Boer War of the late 19th century was ultimately successful. The British won the war, but within a few years, nominal independence was achieved, with the Union of South Africa declared in 1910. Full independence was achieved in 1931.
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The succeeding years saw increasing co-operation between the previously rival Dutch and British settlers, punctuated by disagreements over the alignment of the new country during the Second World War. Post war, the National Party was elected to power in 1948. The rights of the indigenous people had always been restricted even once independence was won, and now the notorious policy of “apartheid” became formalised. The minority Dutch and British effectively ruled over the far more numerous African majority (which represented well over 80% of the population).

In 1961, the new country was declared a Republic, further severing ties with the former British colonial masters. The following years saw an increasingly bitter struggle by the African majority to bring equal democratic rights to all the citizens of the new Republic. The struggle was ultimately successful, with Nelson Mandela ultimately becoming the first black President of South Africa in 1994.

The rand was first introduced in 1961 as part of the republicanisation process differentiating the newly assertive country from its old English colonial history. Its value was under consistent pressure in its early years as a result of increasingly strenuous economic sanctions. These were imposed upon the new republic because of international opposition to its apartheid regime. This process of devaluation continued even as it became clear that majority rule would eventually be won. This was because of the economic and financial uncertainty that could result. It was feared that the country could collapse into civil war. These fears were not helped by similar conflict in the neighbouring country of Zimbabwe.

In fact, the transfer of power was largely peaceful, but the uncertainty continued for some time after the new President Mandela was elected. The early years of the 21st Century saw a recovery, but subsequent consistent trade deficits have seen the rand continue to struggle against the major international currencies. At the time of writing, the South African rand is valued at just over 20 rand to the pound, and just under 15 rand to the US dollar.

Bingo remains a popular pastime in South Africa, no doubt a legacy of the historical British influence. There was no sign of Michael Cain playing the great game during the classic British movie Zulu, but there again everyone knows that these films are rarely particularly historically accurate. Dramatic licence is frequently used to play hard and fast with the truth…

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