New South African plug standard – What it means for your old plugs

While South Africa’s new plug and socket standard has seen increased adoption in the past few years, the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) has emphasised that it is not yet compulsory to switch over from our old plugs.

Gianfranco Campetti, the chair of the technical committee responsible for South Africa’s plug and socket standards, said that South Africa’s old, big triangular plug configuration will be with us for a long time.

“Millions of accessories are fitted with these big plugs. There is no point in cutting them off, putting on a new plug, and maybe running the risk of connecting the wires incorrectly,” Campetti said during an online media briefing held by the SABS on 6 October 2020.

South Africa’s specifications for domestic AC power plugs and sockets are contained in a family of standards called SANS 164.

The standards are broken into seven parts, ranging from SANS 164 Part 0 (SANS 164-0) to Part 6 (SANS 164-6).

Why so many standards?

Campetti explained that the reason South Africa has so many standards is that we are too small a player in the international market to insist on one standard for South Africa.

Many manufacturers of power tools and small electric devices such as hairdryers are imported to South Africa with a variant of the round German Schuko plug attached.

Similarly, manufacturers and distributors who import cellular phones to South Africa have standardised on the Europlug – a hexagonal diamond-shaped two-pin standard.

Rather than force local resellers to replace the plugs on these imported devices with South Africa’s large three pin standard, the SABS has developed standards that will allow these European standards to be used in South Africa.

South Africa's new plug standard

SANS 164-2: The compact three-pin ZA Plug

South Africa’s new plug and socket standard is contained in SANS 164-2, informally referred to as the compact three-pin ZA Plug.

Instead of the large triangular profile of our current widely adopted electric socket outlet standard, the new standard is shaped like the Europlug.

Following an international standard set out by the International Electrotechnical Commission, ZA Plug adds a third pin to the hexagonal profile of the Europlug that is offset slightly from the centre.

“South Africa is in a very good position to eventually change over to [the SANS 164-2] system and drop some of the other older systems,” Campetti said.

However, it will be a long time yet before South Africa switches over completely to the compact three-pin ZA Plug.

Currently, the regulations only require that ZA Plug sockets be included in new buildings. South Africa’s wiring code was amended in 2018 to state that for new installations, each socket point must have at least one compact three-pin ZA Plug outlet.

Such outlets may still contain old SANS 164-1 triangular-style sockets, and even unearthed Shucko-type sockets and USB ports as shown in the image below.

“Up to now there has always been a consideration to keep the plugs that are in existence — keep them legal — as long as the installation is safe,” stated Campetti.

Campetti said that the SANS 164-1 standard will be with us for a long time and that there is no requirement yet to change either the sockets or the plugs in your house.

Now read: South Africa’s new plugs and adapters – Here is what they look like

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New South African plug standard – What it means for your old plugs