Understanding Common Assault In South Africa: Definition, Penalties, And Legal Recourse


Assault is a serious criminal offence in South Africa, and it is one of the most commonly reported crimes in the country. According to the South African Police Service (SAPS), there were over 170,000 reported cases of assault in 2020 alone. Assault can take many forms, ranging from verbal abuse and threats to physical violence that causes injury to another person.

Common assault is a type of assault that involves the use of force or violence against another person without causing serious bodily harm. It can take many forms, including hitting, kicking, slapping, pushing, or choking another person. It can also include verbal abuse, threats, or intimidation.

Under South African law, common assault is a criminal offence punishable by law. It is a less serious offence than aggravated assault, which involves using a weapon or intending to cause serious bodily harm. In this article, we’ll look closely at common assault in South Africa, including its definition, penalties, and legal recourse.


What Is Common Assault?

Common assault, or simple assault, is defined as an intentional act of physical violence or the threat of physical violence against another person. It is a crime that a person can commit with or without a weapon, ranging from a minor altercation to a serious physical attack. In South Africa, common assault is classified as a misdemeanor offence and is punishable by law.


What Constitutes Common Assault?

Common assault can take many forms, including physical contact, threats, and gestures. Any action that makes another person fear for their safety or puts them in harm’s way can be considered assault. The following are some examples of actions that you can regard as forms of common assault:

  • Punching, slapping, or hitting another person;
  • Pushing, shoving, or kicking another person;
  • Threatening to harm another person with a weapon;
  • Brandishing a weapon in front of another person;
  • Throwing objects at another person;
  • Spitting on another person;
  • Forcibly restraining another person;
  • Intentionally causing emotional distress to another person.


Penalties for Common Assault In South Africa

In South Africa, common assault is classified as a misdemeanor offence. The penalties for common assault in South Africa depend on the offence’s severity, the incident’s circumstances, and whether the offender has any previous criminal convictions. In general, individuals who are found guilty of common assault can face the following penalties:

  • Fine: A person guilty of common assault can be fined up to R10,000. The fine amount will depend on the seriousness of the assault and the offender’s financial circumstances.
  • Imprisonment: A person found guilty of common assault can be sentenced to a maximum of two years in prison. The court may suspend a portion of the sentence, depending on the case’s unique circumstances.
  • Compensation: The court may order that the offender compensates the victim for any injuries or damages suffered due to the assault.


It is worth noting that the above penalties are not exhaustive, and the court may also impose other penalties or conditions as it sees fit.


Legal Recourse for Assault Victims In South Africa

If you are the victim of an assault in South Africa, several legal options are available. These include:

  • Reporting the assault to the police: The first step in seeking legal recourse for an assault is to report the incident to the police. The police will investigate the matter and gather evidence to build a case against the offender.
  • Filing a civil lawsuit: If you have suffered damages due to the assault, such as medical bills or lost wages, you may be able to file a civil suit against your offender. This process can allow you to recover compensation for your losses.
  • Seeking a restraining order: If you fear for your safety, you may be able to pursue a restraining order against the offender. This order can require the offender to stay away from you and may provide additional legal protections.


It is important to note that legal recourse can be a complex process, and we recommend that you seek the aid of a qualified attorney to guide you through the process.


Compensation Claims For Common Assault In South Africa

In South Africa, if you have been a victim of a common assault, you may be eligible to claim compensation from the perpetrator. The first step is to report the assault to the police and obtain a case number. You should also seek medical attention for any injuries sustained during the assault, which will be significant evidence in your case.

Unfortunately, under South African law, there is no statutory system in place by which you, as the victim, can claim compensation from the State. If you wish to get compensated, you must hire an attorney to initiate a claim against your assailant.

When laying a claim for compensation for common assault in South Africa, your case will get directed to the appropriate court. If your required amounts are low enough, your lawsuit will get referred to the small claims court.

The assailant may choose to settle the matter out of court, or they might decide to defend themselves formally. If your case results in a trial, both parties can present their cases to the presiding judge. Once the trial has reached its conclusion, the judge will make their ruling.

You might find that even if the judge rules in your favour, they might not request your assailant to pay you as much compensation as you requested. Instead, they might rule in favour of a lower payment, depending on the circumstances of your case.

Instances of common assault can be highly traumatic for either party. For the best possible outcome, you should use the services of an experienced attorney to help you with your situation, whether you are making a claim of common assault against someone or have had a lawsuit filed against yourself. Having someone with legal expertise to deal with the matter appropriately will help ease your mind.

Our Burnett Attorneys & Notaries team has extensive experience with common assault in South Africa and its associated laws. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you need any help regarding a case of common assault or have any questions.