South Africa isn’t the first country to use more than one language on its coins or bank notes, but it may be prepared to use more languages than any other country since the time of the Russian czars.
On Aug. 31 the Cabinet of South Africa announced they had approved changes to the nation’s coinage that will involve using all the nation’s official languages on an annual rotating basis throughout the next 10 years. The official languages are Africaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Southern Sotho, Swati, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, and Zulu.
This will be the fourth decimal coinage system used by South Africa since decimal coins and bank notes were first introduced in 1961. The current coinage system was introduced in 1989. The third series initially depicted South Africa’s heraldry accompanied by the country’s name simultaneously in English and Africaans, with additional languages added beginning in 1995. The current 1-, 2-, and 5-rand coins have carried the name in two languages on a rotating basis since 2002.
According to the cabinet announcement, “Three languages will be used in the 5-rand coin; two languages on the 2-rand, 50-cent, 20-cent, and 10-[cent] coins, and the 1 rand will be in one language.”
Details of the new coinage were still being determined at press time, but it is known the new coins will carry the words South Africa on one side suing all the official languages. Nothing was said of any possible changes that could be coming to the Krugerrand, South Africa’s gold bullion coinage.
The Krugerrand has traditionally depicted Paul Kruger on the obverse, with a springbok on the reverse. The legends have appeared simultaneously in English and Africaans since the coin was introduced in 1967.
No official reason was given for the use of all eleven official languages on coins beginning next year. Regardless of the reason it is important to note the South African rand is official legal tender in the Common Monetary Area consisting of Eswatini, Lesotho, and Namibia. Multiple languages are commonplace throughout the region. Each of the CMA countries has its own currency (Eswatini uses the lilangeni, Lesotho uses the loti, and Namibia uses the dollar), but the South African rand is also used as a substitute for each of these currencies. Each of these monetary systems is pegged to the rand at parity. The rand had been legal tender in Botswana until 1976 but was then replaced with the pula. The pula is also pegged on par to the rand.
South Africa’s initial decimal coinage introduced in 1961 consisted of the half, 1, 2 1/2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 cents. Production of the half cent ceased in 1967. The 2-rand denomination was introduced in 1989, followed in 1994 by the 5 rand. In 2002 the 1- and 2-cent denominations were phased out, followed by the 5 cent in 2012. These denominations remain as legal tender but due to inflation are unlikely to be seen in circulation. Retail stores normally round total purchase prices to the nearest 10 cents for that reason.
The 5-rand coin was introduced in an effort to curb counterfeiting. This denomination is a copper-nickel ring and aluminum-bronze or bass central plug ringed bimetal coin with additional security features.
Rand denominated bank notes were introduced in 1961. It was at that time the practice of having both an English and an Africaana language bank note began. Afrikaans became the first language appearing on 2-, 10-, and 50-rand bank notes in 1978. English became the first language appearing on the 5- and 20-rand notes of the same series.
In 2005 a new bank note series was introduced on which English is used on the front of each denomination and two other official languages appear on the back making use of all eleven official languages.