Georgina Guedes

The value of the Rand

2013-06-03 08:49

Georgina Guedes

The Rand has plummeted to record lows this week, in a drop that reflects rather alarmingly on the levels of global confidence in what’s happening here in South Africa.

So I thought that I might write a column with about the things are making investors skittish and how to fix them, but then I thought that most of actually know the solutions, and further journalistic hand-wringing would do little to make anyone do anything differently.

Instead, I decided to consider the value of a Rand, and how it has changed in my lifetime. I remember, as a small child, chasing down lost 1c pieces, because they were still good for a sweet at the corner café. I can remember 1c chappies and then 2c chappies, and it’s possible that there was an intermediate step of three-for-2c in between.

I don’t go quite as far back as the half-cent piece or R1 note, but I do remember R2 notes with Jan van Riebeeck’s solemn face starting out of what, in my memory, seems to be an impossibly small slip of paper.

I can remember when my mom used to put R20 petrol in the car, and tipped the petrol attendant 20c. And that earned us more than a trip around the block. I put R60 in my car the other day because I was in a rush and that was all I had in my wallet – it didn’t even make the petrol light go off.

I remember my overseas godmother coming to visit and giving me R300 as a gift – which seemed like a bottomless well of potential to my young self. I deposited it in my Junior Bob account and saved it for the longest time, drawing R20 increments when I identified something with which to treat myself.

When I was about eight or nine, I started getting my own pocket money. R20 a month! The economic freedom that came with this was astonishing. At the time, it meant that I could buy myself a Barbie (a real one) or a Tintin comic – I remember feeling vaguely guilty about these purchases, not sure if these were things that children weren’t allowed to buy for themselves.

And then I remember my first job. Even though I only earned a tenth of what I do now – less even – I think that my disposable income was far greater than it is today. That paltry bundle of thousands bought me holidays, Diesel jeans (who buys Diesel jeans anymore?), platform leather boots, a party every night of the week…

I can remember feeling very grownup drawing R300 at a time when I went to the ATM. I’ve just recently taken to drawing R1 500 at each visit, and that barely sees me through a couple of days. One trip to buy food for the week sets me back that amount easily.

At the same time that life is more expensive and money is worth less, I am constantly aware of how the money that I live on, and the life that I feel so short-changed by is a life of untold extravagance to some. There are those who live in one month on far less than I spend in a couple of days without really thinking about it, for whom every R2 that we benevolently hand down in return for the dubious service of “car watching” really makes a difference. And it makes me sad.

So while I’m struggling to pay school fees, and to fill my tank with petrol, and to buy groceries from Woolies, I pray that the economy improves in South Africa, so that we see growth and development – for the benefit of all South Africans.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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