South African Rand (ZAR)

The official currency of South Africa

Author: Rohan Arora
Rohan Arora
Rohan Arora
Investment Banking | Private Equity

Mr. Arora is an experienced private equity investment professional, with experience working across multiple markets. Rohan has a focus in particular on consumer and business services transactions and operational growth. Rohan has also worked at Evercore, where he also spent time in private equity advisory.

Rohan holds a BA (Hons., Scholar) in Economics and Management from Oxford University.

Reviewed By: Elliot Meade
Elliot Meade
Elliot Meade
Private Equity | Investment Banking

Elliot currently works as a Private Equity Associate at Greenridge Investment Partners, a middle market fund based in Austin, TX. He was previously an Analyst in Piper Jaffray's Leveraged Finance group, working across all industry verticals on LBOs, acquisition financings, refinancings, and recapitalizations. Prior to Piper Jaffray, he spent 2 years at Citi in the Leveraged Finance Credit Portfolio group focused on origination and ongoing credit monitoring of outstanding loans and was also a member of the Columbia recruiting committee for the Investment Banking Division for incoming summer and full-time analysts.

Elliot has a Bachelor of Arts in Business Management from Columbia University.

Last Updated:October 29, 2023

What is South African Rand (ZAR)?

The South African Rand (ZAR) is the official currency of South Africa. It is managed and issued by the South African Reserve Bank, which is the country's central bank.

ZAR has been officially used since its establishment in 1961 and is subdivided into 100 cents, replacing the complex system of pounds, shillings, and pence. This transition symbolized a pivotal moment in South Africa's history as it simplified the country's currency system. 

The name "Rand" itself carries historical significance, derived from the Witwatersrand, a geological feature in Johannesburg known for its rich gold deposits.

There are a number of different banknotes and coins in circulation. The banknotes come in R10, R20, R50, R100, and R200. The coins come in denominations of 1c, 2c, 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c, R1, R2, and R5.

When traveling to South Africa, it is a good idea to have some ZAR on hand for incidentals. However, major purchases can be made using credit cards or travelers' cheques, which can be exchanged for ZAR at banks or Bureau de Change outlets.

Key Takeaways

  • The South African Rand (ZAR) was introduced in 1961, replacing the South African pound as the official currency of South Africa and is also used in Swaziland and Lesotho.

  • The Rand is subdivided into 100 cents, and its name comes from the Witwatersrand, a significant geological feature in Johannesburg known for its rich gold deposits.

  • ZAR is a floating currency, and its value fluctuates based on market forces. As of June 2019, one ZAR was worth approximately 0.07 US dollars. It is among the most traded currencies globally.

  • Due to South Africa's economic growth prospects, ZAR remains an attractive option for investors looking to diversify their portfolios.

The History of the South African Rand

A series of exchange rate realignments, culminating in the ZAR/USD peg of 14 February 1986, followed by a managed float regime from 17 March 1992, has made its value relatively stable. In recent years, however, the currency has been relatively weak due to concerns about South Africa's political and economic stability.

It is a legal tender in the Common Monetary Area, which comprises South Africa, Swaziland, and Lesotho. 

When Namibia gained independence from South Africa on 21 March 1990, the ZAR was chosen as its currency. Botswana also pegged its Pula to the ZAR until 31 May 1976.

South African ZAR coins all bear the same obverse of the state coat of arms with a sprig of Rand behind it. 

Its banknotes have portraits of historical figures on the obverse with views of South African landscapes or landmarks on the reverse. The Bank of England printed early banknotes on behalf of the South African Reserve Bank.

On 14 February 2011, the ZAR traded at R6.90 to the dollar, its weakest point since 2009. 

On 8 May 2013, the currency dropped below the US$1 mark for the first time in nearly ten years due to concerns about China's economic slowdown and a possible reduction in demand for South African commodities. 

Recent years have seen the Rand's value influenced by concerns about South Africa's political and economic stability.

However, by late-May 2013, the currency had recovered to R10.20 per dollar. This is good news for those watching the currency closely, as the South African economy has struggled.  As of June 2022, the Current exchange rate of 1 USD = 16.01 ZAR.

    Rand Vs Other Global Currencies

    In recent years, the ZAR has been one of the most volatile currencies, and its value has been highly affected by political and economic events in South Africa.

    The currency strengthened to a record high against the US dollar in early 2020 as investors sought out emerging markets amid concerns about the global economy. 

    However, it plunged to its weakest level in over two years as the coronavirus pandemic took hold.

    The currency has recovered but remains highly vulnerable to global economic and political uncertainties. 

    Against these challenges, South Africa's central bank has cut interest rates to near-record lows to boost growth.

    Looking ahead, the currency is likely to continue to see volatile swings as it feels the effects of global economic and political developments. 

    However, South Africa's central bank is committed to maintaining stability and ensuring that the currency remains an internationally competitive currency.

    Factors Affecting South African Rand

    As the official currency of South Africa, it is used to buy and sell a variety of goods and services throughout the country. Though its value has fluctuated over the years, the currency remains an important part of the South African economy.

    Some experts believe the currency could strengthen in the coming years due to South Africa's improving economic prospects. 

    In particular, the country's recent credit rating upgrades and increasing investor confidence could lead to more foreign capital inflows. This would help support the currency's value and see it appreciate against other currencies.

    Another factor that could positively impact the currency is South Africa's relatively low level of government debt. This gives the country more fiscal flexibility to respond to economic shocks, which could lead to greater investor confidence and, eventually, a stronger currency.

    Of course, some factors could weigh on the currency's value. One is the possibility of further rating downgrades, which could spook investors and lead to capital outflows. 

    Another is South Africa's high level of unemployment, which could hamper economic growth and lead to more rand-negative news. Finally, the country's large trade deficit could pressure the currency as imports become more expensive.

    It has been a freely floating currency since 1995, and market forces determine its value.

    The currency regularly weakens against major currencies due to South Africa's political and economic uncertainty. In addition, the ZAR is affected by global factors such as the US dollar and Euro.

    Unfortunately, there are several reasons why the currency is so weak:

    • Firstly, South Africa is a very uncertain country politically and economically. This makes investors nervous and less likely to invest in the currency.
    • Secondly, the currency is affected by global factors such as the US dollar and Euro. The money is also used mainly for domestic purposes, which means that it is not as widely used as some other currencies. 
    • Finally, the currency is not an investment currency, and it is not advised to hold large amounts of currency. However, the currency can be a good way to diversify your portfolio.

    South Africa Central Bank

    The South African Reserve Bank (SARB) is the central bank of South Africa and is responsible for the country's monetary policy. The bank's primary objective is to maintain price stability in the economy. 

    • Manage South Africa's gold reserves.
    • Maintain sole power to issue the currency banknotes and coins.

    The bank implements monetary policy by setting interest rates and buying or selling foreign currency.

    Since the end of apartheid in 1994, the South African Central Bank has adopted policy measures to help support the country's transition to a free-market economy

    One of the most notable policy changes was the decision to allow the currency to float freely on global currency markets. This helped to promote stability and encourage foreign investment.

    As the currency is currently pegged to a trade-weighted basket of currencies. The SARB has stated that its policy ensures that the rand is "broadly aligned" with a basket of currencies, but they do not target a specific level for the rand.

    The central bank has also implemented several other policy measures, including low inflation and high reserve requirements. These policies have helped to keep the currency fairly stable against other major currencies.

    The South African Central Bank will likely continue its policy of maintaining stability and encouraging foreign investment. This should help to support economic growth and development in the country.

    South African Rand Investment

    When investing in foreign currencies, the South African currency is often overlooked. However, despite its recent volatility, the currency offers several advantages for investors. First, its current value is relatively stable. 

    Also, there's very little political or economic risk associated with investing in the country. It can also hedge against other currencies that might decrease in value fluctuation. 

    In other words, the South African currency is a fairly safe investment option. This makes it a good choice for risk-averse investors. The rand is relatively undervalued compared to other emerging market currencies. 

    For one thing, the ZAR is highly liquid, meaning that it can be easily bought and sold on foreign exchange markets. The South African economy is also relatively diversified, making it less vulnerable to economic shocks.

    This means there is potential for appreciation in the rand's value, especially if South Africa's economic fundamentals improve.

    Finally, the South African central bank has a good track record of managing inflation. As a result, investing in the currency can be a wise way to diversify one's portfolio and hedge against other, more volatile currencies.

    Adding exposure to the currency can reduce your overall risk while potentially earning healthy returns.

    So if you're looking for an investment opportunity that offers both growth potential and diversification benefits, the rand is worth considering.

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