Thought of the Week | Unpacking the Cybercrimes Act 19 of 2020

The Cybercrimes Act 19 of 2020 brings South Africa up to global standards for combating cybercrime.

With a global surge in internet-based offences partially driven by the influx of individuals working from home due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the promulgation of the Cybercrimes  Act is welcomed and, although not operational yet, it is anticipated that it will shortly receive the green light.

Together with the Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act 2020, the Cybercrimes Act might just be South Africa’s salvation in the fight against cybercrime. Essentially, it aims to promote the following:

  • security of the country’s communications and transactions in the cyber arena;
  • consolidation of laws dealing with cybercrime;
  • establishment of criminal sanctions in respect of cybercrimes;
  • regulation of law enforcement’s control over cybercrime by granting powers to investigate, search, access and seize devices used in committing an offence.

How does the Act relate to WhatsApp?

Under the Cybercrimes Act, people partaking in the sharing of malicious content via WhatsApp, or any other form of social media may be fined or imprisoned if it can be proven that the messages sent are of a threatening nature or reveal intimate content.

Three types of messages (including data messages on WhatsApp or social media platforms) can be deemed as “harmful” and may land the transmitter in a jam.

What would constitute “harmful messages”?

 1. Those messages which incite violence or damage to property

This category involves any person/s who unlawfully distributes or broadcasts by means of a computer-generated system, a data message to a person, group of persons or the general public with the intention to incite damage to property or violence against a person or a group of persons.

2. Those messages which threaten persons with violence or damage to property

This category refers to messages which incite violence, damage to property, personal threats, and malicious communication.

3. Those messages which contain intimate images sent without consent

Content that could be deemed harmful may include, but are not limited to, the distribution of revenge porn and threats sent on social media apps, such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp or Instagram.

A person who is convicted of an offence under the Cybercrimes Act may be liable to a fine or to imprisonment for a period of up to 15 years or both.


With the alarming increase in the global technology sector, cybercrime is inevitable and South Africa has taken a crucial step to make provision for this inevitability by the enactment of the Cybercrimes Act. The Act has been assented to recently, and a date for coming into operation must still be promulgated. We will keep you posted on developments.

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