This is why South Africa has a new plug standard

The South Africa Bureau of Standards (SABS) is considering changes to the wiring code that would make a “new” plug standard semi-compulsory for new installations in South Africa.

Called SANS 164–2, or ZA Plug, the standard has the same shape as the Europlug and has been the preferred standard for new installations since 2013.

It differs from the Europlug in that it allows for an earth pin – slightly offset from the middle of the plug, between the live and neutral pins.

While the ZA Plug standard hasn’t been widely adopted in South Africa, it has been around for more than a decade.

It is based on the IEC 60906–1 standard which was published by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) in 1986.

South Africa is the only country in the world that adopted the standard as specified by the IEC.

This raises the question: Why is South Africa switching to a standard no one else uses, when standards like the European Schuko plug might serve us better?

South Africa's new plug standard

Why ZA Plug?

When the IEC first began development on IEC–906–1, which became IEC60906–1, it was trying to establish a universal plug and socket system.

“After long and often acrimonious discussions, the [committee] came to an acceptable solution,” the IEC stated:

  • IEC 906–1 (now IEC 60906–1) in 1986 for 250V installations using round pins.
  • IEC 906–2 (now IEC 60906–2) in 1992 for 125V installations using the US flat pin design.

Despite its efforts, commercial and political interests caused the standardisation initiative to fail in Europe – and Brazil and South Africa are the only countries to have adopted the 250V standard.

However, Brazil deviated from the standard by delivering either 127V or 220V mains using the same socket.

Japan and the US have plugs and sockets that are compatible with IEC 60906–2.

Talk of adopting the new standard began in South Africa in 1993, and a version of SANS 164–2 that dates back to 2006 is available online.

According to the SABS, the ZA Plug only appeared in South Africa’s wiring code much later.

Its first mention was in version 1.8 of the “SABS standards for the wiring of premises, part 1: low-voltage installations (SANS 10142–1)”, which was published in 2012.

Benefits of ZA Plug

In addition to trying to adopt a global standard, the SABS said the new plug standard will be safer and eventually cheaper than our current IEC Type M plug.

Another benefit of the ZA Plug is that you will no longer need an adapter for devices that use a double-insulated two-prong Europlug.

Energy expert Chris Yelland has welcomed this, as he said such adapters are costly and often sub-standard.

No rush… yet

While the SABS is considering making the new standard semi-compulsory for new installations from March 2018, this will not affect existing homes and businesses.

There is therefore no rush for South Africans to switch out their power outlets, for now.

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This is why South Africa has a new plug standard