Concerned for your safety at home? Use of force to protect property

use of force to protect propertyIn certain parts of Greater Cape Town – and, indeed, of South Africa – housebreaking, sometimes involving violence and attacks on the householder, has become almost a daily occurrence. In Hout Bay, for example, recent figures from SAPS indicate that ± 7,000 homes in the valley were involved in some form of a criminal intrusion during a period of 12 months.

This, in turn, has led to a rise in the purchase of firearms and in highly satisfactory sales for the intruder detection, prevention and response companies.

However, there is still widespread ignorance as to exactly what a householder may or may not do to protect, firstly, his property and, secondly, himself, his spouse and his dependants. People do not understand or know the rules regarding the use of force to protect property.

The use of force to protect property and the law

Many people brought up in the pre-1994 era believe that they have the right to use deadly force against any person on their property without their consent – but this is very definitely not permitted in South African law.

A large body of case law has been built up over the years on this subject, with the result that clear guidelines have been laid down in South African law regarding both the attack of property and life, and the response to such attack.

The mere fact that an intruder is in a place where he is not permitted to be without the property owner’s consent is not in itself sufficient cause to justify a shooting or use of another form of deadly force. There has to, for example, be clear evidence that the property of the property owner was presently in danger of unlawful damage or destruction.

Regarding the response to an attack, the property owner must be able to satisfy the criteria that his response is necessary to avert the danger, is a reasonable response to the danger, and that it is directed against the attacker. If it is evident that damage to property is about to take place, the property owner can use force, but he is still expected to be reasonable in his use of force.

The law regarding trespassing and protection of property states that the response of the victim has to be reasonable: it would not, for example, be acceptable to shoot simply because one or two items of garden furniture were being stolen. However, if the householder was fortunate enough to be the owner of expensive jewellery, a Matisse or a Picasso and these were being stolen, the value of the theft, and possibility of such items never being recovered, might well justify a stronger use of force.

The use of force to protect property and firearm licences

In a fair number of instances, the householder’s firearm used in his defence is later found to be unlicenced. This is a serious offence and those who have inherited or acquired firearms without licensing them should put matters right as soon as possible – and should take a firearm course if they intend keeping the firearm.The law lays it down that the licence has to be obtained before a firearm is purchased.

Images courtesy of Stuart Miles at

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