Getting stuck with fake money in South Africa

To combat fake money, South Africa made all bills older than 2005 illegal. Problem is, South African money does not show the year of issue.

Richard B. Levin/Newscom
A collection of ‘old’ South African rand bills. New bills have raised lettering to prevent fraud.

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

The Labia Theatre is the destination of choice for Capetonian film lovers wanting to catch a documentary or sip a cappuccino. Most customers pay with cash – at just 30 rand ($3.95) a ticket, it’s much less pricey than the big cinema chains where people often pay with credit cards.

Labia Theatre owner Ludi Kraus first noticed problems with counterfeit bills at the beginning of the year. His bank said that a few of the 200 rand ($26) notes the theater tried to deposit were fakes. So the theater stopped accepting the country’s largest currency altogether. Despite the inconvenience to customers, it was the only way to prevent being passed another bum bill.

Since 2005, a number of new security measures, such as raised lettering and an iridescent band, have been used for paper currency, including the 200 rand note. Older bills, naturally, were easier to fake.

When the South Africa Reserve Bank announced a deadline for exchanging old bills at the end of May, it was supposed to alleviate concerns about fraudulent currency. Instead, it created confusion and panic about what was still legal tender.

“Old” refers to bills that predate 2005, but herein lies the problem: South African money does not show the year of issue. Some shops would no longer accept bills from the old series; others wouldn’t take 200 rand notes at all.

Banks in South Africa routinely charge customers for depositing or withdrawing cash, whether with a bank teller or using an ATM. Some bank account holders who tried to exchange old bills for new ones got charged twice for depositing old notes and withdrawing new ones. (When reports of the double charge surfaced in the media, the bank in question changed its policy.)

Foreign visitors who exchange money for rand notes at home need to be wary of old bills.

Now that the deadline for exchanging money at regular banks has passed, anybody with old money can only exchange the money at one of seven Reserve Bank locations.


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