South African Knife laws explained

Knife Carry Laws in South Africa

The carrying of knives in public is forbidden or restricted by law in many countries. Exceptions may be made for hunting knives, pocket knives, and knives used for work-related purposes (chef’s knives, multi-tools, etc.). Most knives are in fact tools and not illegal to carry or indeed own.

Depending on where you are in the world it’s important to be aware of relevant Knife legislation in your area and especially areas you may be traveling to.

In the USA, knife laws differ from state to state (federalism) with some allowing blades up to 3 inches to others like Texas, who allow short swords and guns to be openly carried in public. There are also distinctions on ownership laws and carry laws that apply as well.

The United Kingdom has adopted very stringent regulations on knives regardless of size and function. This is mainly in response to the dramatic increase in knife related crime that has swept London and other areas in recent years.

In South Africa we are fortunate that we do not have the same level of restrictions/hoplophobia that some countries have. While we do not have specific laws relating to knives, we do have the Dangerous Weapons Act 15 of 2013, which covers knives and officially came into force on 2 January 2014.

Excerpts from the act…

1. Definitions

In this Act, unless the context otherwise indicates – ‘‘dangerous weapon’’ means any object, other than a firearm, capable of causing death or inflicting serious bodily harm, if it were used for an unlawful purpose.

Other examples of dangerous weapons include but are not limited to the following:

  • Sword;
  • Bayonet;
  • Baton/Tonfa;
  • Spear or assegai;
  • Panga;
  • Cattle prod;
  • Flick knife, gravity knife, switchblade;
  • Dagger;
  • Knuckle knife, brass knuckles;
  • Trench knife;
  • Throwing blade, tomahawk;
  • Non-metal or ceramic knife;
  • Throwing star;

Any knife other than knives mentioned above, or any other article, which is not a firearm, and which is made or modified to be used:

  1. or injure or disable a person;
  2. to cause a person to fear that someone will be injured or
    disabled by that use; or
  3. for attack or defense in the practice of a martial sport, art or
    similar discipline.

2. Application of Act

This Act does NOT apply to the following activities:

  • Possession of dangerous weapons in pursuit of any lawful employment, duty or activity;
  • possession of dangerous weapons during the participation in any religious or cultural activities, or lawful sport, recreation, or entertainment; or
  • legitimate collection, display or exhibition of weapons.

The law is in place to protect members on the public from harm, rather than restrict the ownership of these items, many of which have cultural importance. The result of this is that it is legal to carry a knife of any blade length around with you, if the circumstances for carrying are found to be due to the pursuit of any lawful employment, duty or activity, during participation in any religious or cultural activities, law sport, recreation or entertainment, and for legitimate collection, display or exhibition of weapons.

The following comment by Police Superintendent Jay Naicker is widely used across forum sites as a benchmark, where he said “that a weapon like a knife should not exceed 10cm for it to be considered legal“. As this length is not stipulated in the Act, this comment should probably be taken with a “pinch of salt”, within context and not as a general rule of thumb.

Any person who is in possession of any dangerous weapon, or of any object which so resembles a firearm that …. , shall be guilty of an offense, unless he is able to prove that he at no time had any intention of using such weapon or object for any unlawful purpose, and shall on conviction be liable to a fine or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding three years.

This means that you will need to be unarmed during a gathering, protest or demonstration, and that you can’t do anything illegal while you have such an item in your possession, as well as not giving the police reason to think that you’re planning to do something with it.

If anyone sees a person in possession of a dangerous weapon and suspects that the person intends to use it to commit an unlawful act, they are urged to call 10111 or Crime Stop/tip-off line 08600 10111.

Personal Protection:

The need for personal protection (aka Self defense) is a hotly debated standpoint in South Africa. In most cases of violence, you never want to be within arms reach of an attacker because it’s too dangerous. Learn avoidance and situational awareness, after all, prevention is better than cure.

There are personal defense courses available and it’s highly recommended that you receive proper training and hone your skills, should such a situation ever arise. Personally, purpose made self defense or last-ditch knife are good options here, as they are small and easy to conceal.


Due to the lack of clear guidelines and the use of “discretion” by the police, it’s difficult to provide a definitive standpoint on knife carry with in South Africa. Safe to say it is your right to carry a knife, but by doing so, you need to comply with the requirements as laid out in the Act.  If in doubt, please consult a legal practitioner as KZN Knifemakers and associated members / parties cannot be held liable or responsible for your actions.

8 thoughts on “Knife Carry Laws in South Africa”

  1. We must study the legal prescripts and the current trends in SA Law before making sweeping comments. The Courts apply much more stringent tests, especially in the light of decided cases in recent years. Beside gatherings and the like, the Prosecution has to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that the accused has used or is intending to use the “dangerous weapon” in the commission of an offence. Mere possession these days is, in most instances, not enough. Hope this helps.

  2. Thank you for your input Vernon. The main put of this post was to educate makers, collectors and general users on their rights in South Africa. The post was reviewed by current members of SAPS before posting to ensure it factual.

  3. I am 17 years old and wish to know if it is legal for me to own a survival knife used for cutting paracord rope to make accecories like bracelets

  4. Hi Zandré,
    A legal practitioner will be able to advise your more accurately on your unique case. However if you are making the accessories at your home, it’s not dangerous to others and can be argued to be a tool in your own “employment”. The advice I’ve had is not to dive too deeply into the details of the Act but rather look at the overall objective, which is public safety.

  5. What about a Nepalese kukrie knife! It’s a tool for all sorts would it be ok say for a trucker to carry with him while he/she is hauling goods across Africa!!? Or would it be a big red flag!! I think I would be more of a deterrent!

  6. Well, we can’t speak about all of Africa in this, as each country will have different laws. For SA though, a kukri would be fine to carry in your truck with the aim of self-protection. Given the current environment that probably isn’t a bad idea, however, proper training is definitely recommended. Pulling out a weapon in an out of control situation can sometimes be the worst thing you can do….

  7. I am 20 and am looking to carry in a karambit around with me for self-defence it is a folding knife and has a 7.5 cm blade which has spring assisted deployment the total length is 17cm if I was found carrying it could it be confiscated (it is an expensive collectors item) or could I be arrested
    I hope you answer my question
    yours sincerely

  8. Unlike the UK and many US states, South Africa doesn’t have restrictions on the opening and locking mechanisms of knives. The law provides the means for collectors to have large numbers of knives. The Police won’t confiscate knives for the sake of it, you’d have to demonstrate to them, through your actions that you posed a danger. Keep to the old adage of “Don’t be a dick” and you’ll be fine.

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