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

1976 August 23 – Introduction of the Pula, 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. The Pula pegged to the US dollar at P1 = USD1.15
1978 February 16 – P20 note introduced
1980 November 6 – Pula taken off US dollar peg. Pula Basket, comprising SDR and South African rand, introduced.
1981 October 9 – 2t coin introduced
1990 May 29 – P50 note 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 June 24 – New P10 note introduced, bearing the portrait of the then President of Botswana, His Excellency Festus G. Mogae.
October 27 – New P20 note introduced, bearing the portrait of D. K. Motsete, the composer of the national anthem.

June 5 – New P50 note introduced, bearing the portrait of first President of Botswana, Sir Seretse Khama, and new P100 note bearing the portrait of the three chiefs, Bathoen I, Khama III and Sebele I, who obtained British protection over Bechuanaland.

November 1 – P5 coin introduced

2009 August 23– New family of banknotes, including new P200 denomination, introduced.