At the time of independence in 1966, Botswana was a member of the Rand Monetary Area (RMA) and the South African rand served as the national currency. However, with the decision, announced on September 6 1974, to withdraw from the RMA, the country was committed to introducing a new currency. This required substantial preparatory work, including choosing the name for the currency, and how much and in what denominations it should be produced. Regarding the name, the choice of Pula (meaning ‘rain’ or ‘blessings’) as the basic unit made up of 100 thebe (‘shield’) was overwhelmingly supported by a poll of public opinion. Thomas de la Rue and Company and the Royal Mint, both from Britain, were chosen to design and supply the notes and coins, respectively.

The new national currency was launched on August 23, 1976, subsequently known as ‘Pula Day’. An initial period of 100 days was allowed for the exchange of rand for pula, during which time the parity between the two currencies was guaranteed; various standby arrangements were also put in place to ensure enough supply of foreign exchange should the conversion take longer than expected. However, these were quickly cancelled as it soon became clear that the new currency was being enthusiastically received by the public. A large proportion of the rand circulating in Botswana was exchanged within a few weeks of Pula Day.

At the time of launching the Pula, the denomination structure consisted of four notes (P1, P2, P5 and P10) and five coins (1t, 5t, 10t, 25t and 50t). Over the years, due to rising prices, higher value notes have periodically been introduced and coins, which last much longer, are now used for smaller denominations that are used more frequently. The lowest value coins have also been demonetised. Nonetheless, such adjustments have not been frequent, indicating the successful use of appropriate monetary and exchange rate policies to help maintain the value of the currency.

The design of the currency has been consistently based on symbolic illustration of the socio-economic, political and cultural make-up of Botswana as a country, including the importance of democracy, tourism and mining. The design has been periodically reviewed both to improved security to counter forgeries and to make appropriate adjustments to the artwork. Regarding the latter, since the launch of the Pula in 1976, it had been the practice for all new notes to feature the portrait of the current president. However, since 1997 each denomination features a different portrait, with only the P10 note showing the current president.

On August 23 2009, exactly 33 years since the introduction of the Pula, a new family of Banknotes was introduced. This included a new P200 denomination note, bearing the image a woman teaching, reflecting both the importance of education and the contribution of women to national development.

Major developments since the introduction of the Pula

Year Currency Development
1976 August 23 – Introduction of the Pula and thebe, replacing the South African rand. Pula, with notes (P1, P2, P5 and P10) and coins (1t, 5t, 10t, 25t and 50t) put in circulation on Pula Day.
1978 February 16 – P20 note introduced.
1980 November 6 – Pula ceased being pegged to the US dollar. Pula Basket, comprising SDR and South African rand, introduced.
1981 October 9 – 2t coin introduced.
1990 May 29 – P50 banknote introduced.
1991 June 20 – P1 coin introduced, November 30 – Demonetisation of the scalloped P1 and 2t coins.
1993 August 23 – P100 note introduced.
1994 August 1 – P2 coin introduced.
1997 October 27 – P20 banknote bearing portrait of national anthem composer, Dr K T Motsete, was introduced.
1999 June 24 – P10 banknote, bearing the portrait of the then sitting President, His Excellency Festus G Mogae, was introduced. Other banknotes bore portraits of figures and features of national significance.
2000

June 5 - P50 banknote introduced bearing the portrait of the first President of Botswana, Sir Seretse Khama, and P100 banknote bearing the portrait of the three chiefs, Bathoen I, Khama III and Sebele I, who travelled to Britain in the 1890’s to secure the country’s identity.

November 1 – P5 coin introduced.

2009 August 23– New family of banknotes, including new P200 denomination, introduced.
2014 February 27 – A new family of coin was introduced.
The old circulating coin was subsequently withdrawn and demonetised.
2018 February 1 – A new polymer P10 banknote was issued into circulation. The polymer largely maintained the same design and colour as the circulating cotton based P10 banknote, except that it had more advanced security features.
2021 February 22 – A polymer P10 banknote bearing the portrait of current sitting President, His Excellency Dr Mokgweetsi E. K. Masisi was introduced.