SA to get new electrical sockets, plugs

South Africa has adopted a new standard for electrical plugs and sockets that, it’s claimed by the International Electrotechnical Commission, is the safest in the world. But will it take off? By Nafisa Akabor.

SANS 164-2 sockets, with the older three-pin socket visible on the right

SANS 164-2 sockets, with the older three-pin socket visible on the right. The new sockets use up considerably less space than the current three-pin sockets, and they’re safer

South Africans could soon find themselves having to wrestle with a new type of electrical plug following the adoption of an apparently much safer standard for plugs and sockets.

SANS 164-2 was introduced as the “preferred standard” for electrical plugs and sockets by the South African National Standard for the Wiring of Premises (known better as the Wiring Code) in 2013, says South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) SC23B mirror committee chairman Gianfranco Campetti.

“The plan is for all new installations of plugs and sockets to be the 164-2 standard from around 2015,” says Campetti. “However, there could be delays or changes.”

South Africa has long used its own, unique three-pin plug that doesn’t fit electrical sockets used elsewhere in the world. In fact, there are over 50 different plug and socket configurations used across the world today.

Gianfranco Campetti

Gianfranco Campetti

Plugs and sockets based on SANS 164-2 will be available from April this year, says Campetti. However, products fitted with the new plugs — kettles, irons, fridges — could take a few years to arrive on retail shelves.

The country’s unique plug stems from the fact that as a former British colony, South Africa adopted the UK standard of three large round pins as early as the 1930s. When the UK switched to flat pins in the 1970s, South Africa should have followed suit, but didn’t — mainly due to commercial reasons.

The BS 546 British standard adopted by South Africa is codified in SANS 164-0, which is made up of nine different plug and socket configurations, of both two-pin and three-pin types. The three-pin plugs are polarised and un-fused (they don’t have individual fuses) and are not interchangeable between electrical current ratings.

At the end of the 1990s, two significant developments occurred, explains Campetti. The Europlug came to South Africa as a basis for cellphone chargers, and small hand-tool manufacturers introduced the unearthed Schuko, a German standard, into the market.

Cellphone two-pin plug chargers are double-insulated, don’t need earth pins and convert 220V into 5V (depending on type), says Campetti.

“South Africa had no choice but to hastily introduce these standards as the various device manufacturers were not prepared to make specific versions for the relatively small SA market.”

To be phased out over the next 10-20 years ... or longer

To be phased out over the next 10-20 years … or longer

The two standards are the SANS 164-5 two-pin, non-rewireable system (2,5A; 250V) for equipment like cellphone chargers and the SANS 164-6 two-pin system (16A; 250V) for equipment like power tools and electric lawnmowers.

After World War II, the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) decided to create a worldwide configuration. The IEC is a nonprofit, nongovernmental organisation based in Geneva, Switzerland that sets standards for all electrical and electronic technologies. Bodies around the world, including the SABS, have adopted the standards set out by the IEC.

Campetti explains that as in almost all the European countries, no one was really interested in a global plug and socket standard. “For each country, it was like giving up their language.”

The IEC formed a working group and commenced work in 1956. Thirty years later, in 1986, the IEC 906 standard was published, says Campetti.

“It was during the early 1990s, with a new South Africa looming, that the SABS decided to adopt the standard (introduced as SANS 164-2) as it was seen as a fantastic opportunity for the country to be at the forefront of this ‘worldwide’ plug and socket configuration and be the first country to adopt it.”

However, manufacturers showed no interest in switching to the IEC standard. “No one was prepared to tool up or implement it because of the costs involved,” says Campetti. “Despite this, SANS 164-2 was introduced as a national standard and was specified as the ‘preferred standard’ last year in the code of practice in South Africa. This means that from around 2015, all new installations will have to be fitted with the new standard, and that the old (SANS 164-1) will be phased out over the next 10 to 20 years, or possibly longer,” says Campetti.

“Unfortunately SANS 164-2 will be another unique South African plug and socket configuration, with the exception of Brazil, which uses it and an additional variation with a thicker pins.”

The proposed new plug will have three levels of safety and will be the safest plug point in the world, with only Switzerland’s plug points coming close to that level of safety, according to Campetti.

SANS 164-2 plug and socket

SANS 164-2 plug and socket

But will South Africa be at an advantage or a disadvantage by making SANS 164-2 the preferred standard for plugs and sockets?

Campetti says there are three elements to consider when evaluating this. He groups these under “economic”, “technical” and “export”.

The economic element will mean more local manufacturing and jobs, while the technical aspect means South African will have the safest plug and socket system in the world — it will apparently be impossible for a child to put their finger in a socket and get shocked.

The export opportunity, however, won’t be an advantage unless other countries in Southern Africa adopt the standard, too.  — (c) 2014 NewsCentral Media

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  • Iam Qlue

    “and small hand-tool manufacturers introduced the unearthed Schuko, a German standard, into the market.”
    The Schuko plug does have an earth and the earth is required. But since we don’t have the sockets, we only get the poorly designed Chinese adaptors that leave out the crucial earth connection.
    I tend to like the British fused plug. (used in Botswana)
    And everything I buy either comes with British or Schuko plugs.
    (well, except those that come with the deadly USA plugs)

  • Greg Mahlknecht

    The problem with the Schuko is that it uses up pretty much the same amount of real estate as our old plugs. If we’re going to adopt a standard in this modern world where you need to plug in tons of things, I feel it’s best to go for something that offers twice the density. I know my study’s crowded plug points would look a LOT better with the new plugs!

  • Iam Qlue

    Valid point. But this new plug looks very similar to the ‘europlug’ that everything comes with today. I find that plug very ‘wobbly’ and try to avoid it whenever I can.

  • Wayne Kitching

    The plugs and sockets have been commercially available since at least 2012. I bought an adaptor and a plug at Builders Warehouse Rivonia that year.

  • Freddie Jones

    Your ‘kitchen plug’ is a socket!

    If you don’t know the difference, I’m sorry about your sex life!

  • JoeDbn

    Campetti was a director of Crabtree who have pushed for this – now part of Aberdare group – nuff said??

  • Felix

    This is stupid… So we are going to move to two standards now? The Plugs in the pictures above are “SANS 164-2″ (and NOT “SANS 164-5″ as stated in the article) and can only carry 2.5 AMP, while the other standard, the “SANS 164-6″, of which I failed to even get a picture of from the internet, is the one to be used with power tools such as drills, grinders etc. Note, you will also not power a very hot heater with 2.5 AMP in winter. If you do your plug will crash and burn, presenting an even greater fire hazard than the current plugs. This change has obviously not been very carefully evaluated by our dear Government, as with so many other things they do. Somebodie’s friend of a friend is going to gain from this – AGAIN. Time for the ANC to Stuff off!!!

  • ToothyGrinn

    So in a sense, companies do not want to make our three pin plug because it is rare, now they want to switch to an even rarer plug, wow, smart!
    Just switch to the European standard and shut up.

  • ToothyGrinn

    I have always hated the two pin connector, never makes contact, always fiddling to make it work before that cellphone charger disconnects again.

  • ToothyGrinn

    South Africa gained independence from Britain on 31 May 1961.
    Look it up.

  • Freddie Jones


    In 1961 SA became a Republic, it was able to do this because it was already independant! An independent Dominion, the same status that Canada, New Zealand and Australia still have today.

    At the same time SA left the Commonwealth.

    If at the time, SA had not been independent, it would have caused the same problems that Ian Smiths declaration of UDI caused.

    Today, SA stlll an independent Republic, is again a member of the Commonwealth.

    Most members of the Commonwealth are independent Republics!

  • Nafisa Akabor

    Yes, Crabtree makes them.

  • Nafisa Akabor

    This is what it looks like: 164-6

  • Nafisa Akabor

    For anyone interested, this is the SANS 164 family of plugs that has 9 configurations (Picture credit to EE Publishers).

  • Jay Robinson

    “Safest in the world”? That title belongs to BS 1363 (the current UK standard), and nothing else!

  • David

    Actually, the European system’s relatively straight forward once you exclude the countries that don’t use it : UK, Ireland, Italy, Denmark and Switzerland.

    Close to 1/2 a billion people right across continental Europe, all of the former USSR, South Korea and quite a few other places use it.

    The system is known as ‘CEE 7′

    The system uses two types of sockets:

    CEE 7/4 – German originated 16amp socket with scraping side earthed.

    CEE 7/5 – French originated 16amp socket with earth pin.

    The same plugs fit both types, and really it’s totally irrelevant which one is in use. Only very old plugs don’t work with both types.

    There are various obsolete non-earthed sockets, but they’d be totally irrelevant in any new adoption like South Africa which could just adopt one of the above earthed sockets exclusively and are generally banned in new installation in Europe.

    The plugs:

    CEE 7/16 is the small flat 2.5amp plug that you find in South Africa on mobile phone chargers and other small items. (This fits all European outlets except the UK and Ireland).

    CEE 7/7 is a 16amp earthed plug that fits all European outlets except the countries listed above. So, it basically works across hundreds of millions of people’s homes and offices.

    CEE 7/17 is the 16amp non-earthed version of the above (often found on vacuums, hair dryers etc.

    All three plug types fit the above sockets without any adaptors, or messy configurations.

    I think it would have been *MUCH* more sensible for South Africa to have just adopted the CEE 7 system.

    You’d have gotten a safe, 16amp, recessed socket with shuttering (required on the French type).
    The French type is also polarised.

    And you’d have had 100% compatibility with hundreds of millions of households and businesses in Europe.

    Appliances with CEE 7/7, CEE 7/17 and CEE 7/16 plugs i.e. to European specs could have been sold in South Africa without any need for plug changes.

  • David

    They’re only ‘wobbly’ because you’re not using them with the sockets they’re intended for i.e. European ‘schuko’.
    A lot of south African 2-pin adaptors are designed for wider pins.

    Schuko is significantly smaller than 15A (16A) BS546 which is what the current SA plug is. It’s still chunky enough though but it’s not huge by any means.

  • David

    Possibly Chinese plugs. China uses US-style 2 pin plugs with 230V power and then Australian/NZ style plugs for earthed appliances!

  • David

    The spec is supposed to include that plug as it’s part of the IEC standard!

    Europlug actually has slightly inwardly pointing pins to ensure a firm contact with European CEE 7 socket outlets, as well as Italian, Danish and Swiss sockets.

  • David

    Not the Europlug’s problem really – they’re being used with the wrong sockets / adaptors.

  • Iam Qlue

    The ‘europlug’ has a different pin spacing than the schuko. If you can get either one in the socket meant for the other you must be magic. :P
    The only ‘schuko’ adaptors I’ve seen are not true adaptors as they are missing the earth tab. Schuko plugs have three connectors, live and neutral are on the pins and earth is on a tab on the base. (and runs between the pins)

    The pins of most moulded europlugs are soft, flexible plastic and that is mostly why they wobble. Even worse is the plug-in chargers and power supplies that are way too heavy to be supported by the europlug. (hence why these chargers are usually held in place with insulation tape)

    So the claim that it’s the wrong socket being used is clearly not valid, unless you’re thinking about those people who are still using that 60 year old bakelite adaptor. (which was actually designed to accept two different plug standards and is probably more stable that modern versions.)

  • David

    It’s actually the other way around. BS1363 is normally installed on either 32A ring circuits or 20A radial circuits. (In Ireland they’re usually on either 20A or 16A radials and rings are quite rare and not allowed in some circumstances like kitchens and utility rooms)

    The ‘ring final circuit’ is a bit of a quirk of British wiring which was designed to save copper. It allows a large number of sockets to be placed on a single circuit and it also allows them to ‘up-rate’ the wiring to carry more power than would otherwise be allowed because it’s powered from both ends. It was originally introduced in the 1940s in the aftermath of WWII during the big reconstruction projects and it had completely replaced the old complicated BS546 system (still used in South Africa) by the 1970s.

    The previous British system was very cumbersome and required loads of different socket and plug types of different ratings, none of which were compatible with each other. From what I gather SA mostly just uses the 15(16A) version. The original British system came in 30Amp, 15amp, 5amp and 2amp versions all of which had different pin gauges. Then there were another set of incompatible 2-pin plugs in another 3 versions! As a system it absolutely *had* to go.

    Because 32A (30A in the old days) is being supplied, the plug has to have a fuse to protect the appliance cord. Otherwise, in an overload / short circuit the cord would catch fire!

    The circuit literally runs around in a circle with both ends of the cable connected to the fuse or circuit breaker.
    That would actually be very definitely illegal in SA (and most countries) where only radials are permitted.

    You could however, use BS1363 perfectly safely on a SA radial circuit. The socket would be protected by a 16A radial + its own local fusing in the plug. It would be identical to most Irish installations and British radial installations.

  • David

    That’s a derivative of CEE 7/17 – or “Contour” plug (although oddly with sheathed pins which are not required in Europe as the sockets are recessed and you can’t touch the pins).
    They’re normally used on things like hairdryers, vacuums etc in Europe and are rated 16A.

    It’s just the non-grounded version of ‘Schuko’

  • David

    Whatever about the political history, quite a lot of countries used BS546 plugs due to connections with the UK in the past.
    They’re also the norm in India, Pakistan and a few other major countries.

    Relatively few places have used the BS1363 systems though. Many countries instead moved to ‘Schuko’ or, to their own standards like Australia and NZ.

    I would guess most places don’t want to adopt something as bulky as the current UK plugs, especially in these days of laptops and mobile phones.

  • David

    *Maybe* if you hold out long enough, that new IEC plug might see adoption in India and other countries using very bulky plugs. So, you could be part of a bigger market further down the line.

    Kinda cool though that you’ve gone from what is the world’s most enormous plug to the world’s neatest one in a single jump.

  • PAT

    India and Namibia are the only countries left using the old BS plug which we still use.

  • PAT

    The sockets will have the earth. Power tools are double insulated and do not require earth, hence the absence. However, some of these adaptors could pose a risk if the appliance being used needs the earth, but it is left off the adaptor, so beware!!

  • David

    We have a *little* more control of adaptors in Europe but you still get really shoddy stuff on the market coming in via less than official channels.

    In Europe “CEN” (the EU standards agency) and internationally the IEC really should set out legal standards for adaptors. There aren’t THAT many different types of plug and socket in use worldwide.

    Basically just:
    US types.
    EU types.
    UK types
    Aus/NZ/China types.

    and then a few very unusual types like Italy, Switzerland, Denmark and Israel.

    But there should be a requirement that the adaptors comply with the two standards they’re trying to interface between. A lot of the time they seem to be just any old cobbled-together junk that might happen to fit the pins, but who knows if it’s safe or not!

  • David

    The Swiss plug pre-dates the standard SA’s adopting by about 80 years!

    If anything the IEC was stupid not to just adopt the Swiss design.

    Swiss plugs are pretty unusual in Europe outside of Switzerland though. So it’s not much help!

    The only big positive is that the 2-pin Europlug that’s common on most phone chargers in SA and many small appliances will now have a correctly designed socket to fit it without the wobbly/loose adaptors.

  • Greg Mahlknecht

    Couldn’t agree more re: IEC. The stupidity comment stands, just the recipient is changed :) I mean, seriously – copy the design exactly, but move a pin 2mm? Seriously guys.

  • David

    I’d say it was down to the fact that existing Swiss plugs are only 10amp and the proposed new system is 16amp (usual European standard).

    The design came about sometime in the mid-1980s when the European Commission decided that it was going to try to tidy up the EU’s plug incompatibilities.

    They wanted something small, neat, functional and that would make use of modern materials like thermoplastics rather than being based on designs that were intended for bakelite (i.e. like current enormous British plugs or rewirable Schuko).

    In the meantime, they’d managed to completely bridge the gap between French and German standards with the current CEE 7/7 plug. So, the whole continent with the exception of Italy (and Denmark and Switzerland – small countries) was compatible with it.

    The British and Irish required fused plugs due to the ring mains in use in the UK and Ireland so, that would have meant that the rest of Europe would have had to adopt fused plugs too.

    In the end, it was decided that CEE 7/7 was ‘fine’ and that BS1363 was unlikely to be changed anytime soon and that the costs of changing far outweighed any benefits.

    So, the project was shelved and the design ended up being filed with the IEC and was gathering dust until Brazil used it and now South Africa.

    Incidentally, Brazil changed the design and uprated it to 20amps with fatter pins! So, that’s not even compatible.

    Why can’t people just agree on sensible things!?!?

  • David

    Only a very small number of countries went their own way: Italy, Denmark and Switzerland. Italy and Denmark are now moving towards 100% compatible sockets.

    There’s a German type socket with scraping earth contacts at the top and bottom (the most common) and a French type socket which has a protruding earthing pin (used in France, Belgium, Poland and a few other places). Both of those are 100% compatible with all modern plugs. So, the differences are irrelevant.

    Uzaydan Misafir is 100% correct. In reality there are only two major types : ‘continental’ and ‘UK/Ireland’.

    The rest are really minor variations in a couple of odd-ball countries that came up with their own tweaks for some unknown reason – most likely to protect some local companies back in the olden days.

  • PAT

    Yes , true. However British Standards were the preferred choice of the day, hence the influence. Today as we stand, only SA, Namibia and India still use this plug with limited use in Pakistan.

  • Iam Qlue

    The socket you show there is very different from the europlug adaptors we have here. That looks like a hybrid socket.
    There is no way to put a schuko into our europlug adaptors. Even if you cut off the shroud, there is a 2mm discrepancy that means you would have to force-fit the schuko to that socket. The adaptors that are specifically designed for the schuko are also shrouded and yes, I have seen cases where the plastic ‘wings’ on a europlug have been shaved down to fit, but that’s a separate issue.

    The core of the europlug ‘pins’ are usually multi-stranded copper wire. I’ve never come across one that uses solid copper pins coated with plastic. (though I must admit that I’m not in the habit of cutting the pins open so there may be some like that)

    When I’m desperate, I use the traveler’s ‘multi-standard’ extension/adaptor that can also accept American flat pin plugs. (very rare here)

    There is one other plug that we sometimes get on Chinese products, it doesn’t have the europlug ‘prism’ molding and it only fits in the old 5A socket. (although that socket is meant for a three pin plug) It’s really hard to find an adaptor for it and is best avoided.

  • SteveGrobler

    Builders Warehouse? … then you paid too much

  • fh

    I love the british standard although it is very very bulky! gotta admit i changed our Australian sockets and plugs in our garage with a british plug just as it was all i had though but still i prefer the new standard.

  • Bert Grenville-Rose

    You will need to ram a screwdriver (or plastic golf tee works well for this!) into the earth socket to open the live/neutral cover to get the 2-pin europlug to go in! Same as do in the UK to use a 2-pin plug there!

    But at least it will wobble less.

  • Skyfall

    “South Africa had no choice but to hastily introduce these standards as the various device manufacturers were not prepared to make specific versions for the relatively small SA market.”

    It astonishing to hear that in one breathe, then to hear that South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) SC23B mirror committee decides to go against the world in the next. What is going through their heads? There will be perhaps few hundred local jobs as the result of having to cut and fit different plugs, probably voiding the warranty in the process. It will not make our electronic manufacturers more competitive but maybe lazier.

    It’s like arguing that we should fit the steering wheel of our cars right in the middle so it will create employment for local car manufacturers. How can any functioning adults think like this, I can never understand.

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