As with many building regulations, this is heavily dependent on where in South Africa you live.
1. Do you live in urban or low population density area?
Usually, barbed wire and razor wire cannot be on your boundary line. At least not if you live in an area zoned for residential or commercial use (Cape Town is a prime example). The rules are a little different for agricultural and industrial land. You can use it here if you meet certain conditions and have a permission from the authorities.
2. Where exactly in South Africa do you live?
Razor wire and barbed wire, and embedded glass shards are not permitted on top of walls and fences in most places either. There are municipalities (like eThekwini) that allow barbed wire and razor wire on top of walls or fences. As long as it is above a certain height and does not pose any danger to people walking by.
Make sure that you know your local specifications. You will be able to find your municipalities regulations by trying one of the following:
- Search your municipality name followed by “fencing bylaws” online.
- Search your municipality name followed by “minor building works”.
- Look for those above on your municipality website.
- Go to your regional offices or the nearest building inspectorate to enquire.
To recap, the only situations where barbed wire is permitted are:
- If the property is being used for farming purposes, which the Council has approved.
- If the property lies in an industrially zoned area (which cannot be used for residence).
- If the municipality has updated the original nationwide law which prohibited it.
3. Even if barbed wire is legal, you still need additional approval
Bear in mind that you will have to submit some documents for approval if you are starting from scratch. If your fence is 1.8m or less, you will need permission from your local building authority, but you will not need plans. This is because it classifies as “minor building work”. You will need to complete a Minor Building Works form (MBW) which contains a site plan and sketch of the proposal and the applicable fee. If you make adjustments to a shared fence (with your neighbour), you need their written (and signed) permission.
What to avoid and some alternativesAs a general rule, when it comes to deciding what to make your fence out of - avoid using these:
- Barbed wire
- Razor wire
- Asbestos-cement or fibre-reinforced sheets
- Galvanised iron sheets
- Off-cut, untreated split-pole timber
- Off-cut, untreated sapwood timber
You can have security spikes and electric fencing on top of the wall provided the wall is 1.8 metres or higher. Again, check your local fencing limitations because the maximum height will vary from 1.5 to 2.1 metres.