There's a crash fee for cash free

David Bullard writes on the perils of Woolworths and others going card only


Last month there was a minor social media explosion when Woolworths announced that they would no longer be accepting cash at their stores.

This was apparently for the safety of both staff and customers. In fact Woolworths announced nothing of the sort but they did say that their ‘W’ restaurants and coffee bars are now card only establishments which still managed to upset many people.

How, they demanded, could a business refuse to accept legal tender; particularly as the government has gone to such enormous effort to redesign our banknotes and make them more secure and less vulnerable to forgery. Although why any banknote forger in his right mind would want to go to all the trouble of forging a currency as weak as the Rand eludes me. Even our patriotic President doesn’t bother to stuff his soft furnishings with R200 notes, preferring the mighty US dollar. 

My local ‘W’ cafe has been declining cash for some while ___STEADY_PAYWALL___and this is fine if you are forewarned by the staff. But a few people ordered breakfast and coffee and were understandably annoyed when told that cash was unacceptable. Woolworths supermarkets now have tills which are clearly marked ‘cashless’ and, since most of us pay with plastic or point a Smart phone at a machine, this makes sense. No business wants to have to bank a mountain of cash at the end of each day. Woolworths still have a couple of tills which will accept cash.

The only problem with moving to a cashless society is when the system breaks down or, worse, is hacked by a malevolent foreign power as could so easily happen. I did my morning shop at my local Woollies a few months ago and as I approached the till was warned that the system was down and they could only accept cash. Fortunately I usually carry a wad of notes for just such an emergency and was one of the few shoppers that morning able to pay for my groceries.

There are now quite a number of businesses which only accept card or smart phone payment. Which is great unless you don’t happen to have a card or a bank account linked smart phone or have had them stolen. The correct virtue signalling response to calls for a cashless society and a government controlled digital currency is that this creates ‘retail apartheid’. Only those privileged to have credit will be able to afford to buy anything and everyone else must survive by begging or barter.

Since South Africa is busy decolonising at the moment and severing all links to colonial oppression this is a fair comment. But, in truth, we are probably light years away from becoming a cashless society. There are quite simply too many people who still rely on cash.

Many domestic workers and gardeners prefer to be paid in cash because they can spend the money straight away if they choose and don’t have to wait a couple of days for it to show up in their bank accounts. If you don’t carry cash you can’t purchase a copy of the Big Issue or give a tip to the friendly French speaking car guard who always waves you into the last available parking bay.

You can’t tip the petrol pump jockey who has filled your car, checked oil and water, cleaned your windscreen and checked your tyre pressures. You can’t even buy your monthly booze allowance anonymously without it showing up on your credit card account and being fed into a central surveillance computer. In some apparently civilised countries booze consumption is carefully monitored through purchase records and the information stored and scrutinised….for your own protection naturally.

I was in a Cape Town restaurant recently when the waitress who looked after us politely asked if we could possibly leave the tip we had scribbled on the bill in cash. We couldn’t as it happened but, as a general rule, I am more than happy to leave the tip in cash and pay the bill with a credit card. Whether the tip is shared with other staff is not a matter for my conscience.

My late father became a Fellow of the Institute of Bankers in the UK and gave a lecture at a banking summer school in Oxford on the perils of the credit card when they were first widely introduced in the 1970’s.

Having come from a very poor working class background he held the view that you should only spend what you knew you could afford. His fear with the credit card was that people would be tempted to spend multiples of what they earned and this would trap them into a spiral of debt. How right he was. The credit card was always great for the bank’s bottom line (thanks to absurdly high interest charges) but not so great for those who saw it as a magical cash bonus every month.

The best argument for holding cash comes from Charles Dickens’ debt laden character Mr Micawber:

“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds, nineteen and six, result happiness.

Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery”.

Last November the South African Reserve Bank and Statistics South Africa revealed that average household debt measured against take-home pay was a staggering 75%. That’s a hell of a lot of misery isn’t it?

My only objection to carrying cash is the shrapnel of small coins. What possible use is a ten cent or twenty cent piece? And yet I regularly get handed them when I buy something for R19.99 and get 10 cents change for a R20 from the till. The two rand and one rand coins are almost as useless but at least I can feed them into the parking machine at my local mall. The copper coins just used to hang about in the wardrobe until I came up with a brilliant idea.

I now collect about thirty of them and put them in a small plastic bag which I take down to the local beach very early in the morning. I dig a hole and bury the bag on the beach. Then I go off to buy a cup of coffee and return to watch as the guy with the metal detector hovers excitedly over my buried treasure, his earphones bleeping crazily. He excitedly digs it up and, while clearly not ecstatic at the discovery, can at least console himself that his morning hasn’t been entirely wasted and he’s R5 richer than before.


South Africa’s keenness to stay on the right side of some of the most repulsive regimes in the world and to suck up to terrorist organisations like Hamas may well prove to be a very safe decision. For the wrong reasons admittedly but a safe decision nonetheless.

Since the ANC have demonstrated over the years that they have no scruples, no integrity, no morality and are nothing but a gigantic criminal enterprise determined to enrich themselves at the expense of the majority of South Africans then it’s no surprise that they would also turn out to be cowards.

When Russia invaded Ukraine, South Africa made it very clear to the world by not condemning the invasion that they were on the side of Russia. If that happened to upset the UK, the US and EU nations then so what? Are they likely to launch a missile attack on us? Not a chance. But if we upset Mother Russia there could be all sorts of nasty consequences. So we back the school bully because it’s the easier way to go.

The same applies to the Israel/Gaza war. Wouldn’t it be a bit dangerous to upset a rape happy terror group like Hamas or to alienate our new BRICS best buddy Iran? You never know when you’re going to need a thuggish regime to back you up. So rather drape a keffiyeh around your shoulders and babble on about how Israel is denying Palestinians the right to exist, short of water, medication, shelter, electricity and health care while many South Africans are experiencing exactly the same living conditions as Palestinians in Gaza only without the inconvenience of war. If there were an award for International Virtue Signalling South Africa would win it every year.