Nov 2015 1st Edition

Sheriffs at your service

Written by *Sinenhlanhla Mkhwanazi
When the word sheriff is mentioned, many South Africans become concerned and fearful that their belongings will be taken or seized. Some think sheriffs are the bearers of bad news and should be avoided at all costs, but this is not the case. A sheriff is a fair and independent official of the Court appointed by the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development (DoJ&CD).

According to Charmaine Mabuza, Chairperson of the South African Board for Sheriffs (SABFS), the sheriffs’ profession is an important arm of the administration of justice in South Africa, without it, justice would grind to a halt.

“A sheriff is appointed to serve or execute all documents issued by a court, these include a summons, notice, warrant or a court order. To give you further peace of mind a sheriff also carries a valid identification card issued by the SABFS at all times, and is able to produce it on request,” said Mabuza. 

How to deal with a sheriff

The department encourages all citizens to cooperate in situations when dealing with sherriffs. Do not hide when you see a sherriff, it is important that you receive and are made aware of the court’s actions. A sheriff will explain to you the contents of the court document and identify what you need to do next; a sheriff will also keep your private affairs confidential. If there is a court order that requires a sheriff to attach certain assets like your vehicle or furniture on your premises, a sheriff will comply. The Sheriff however may not attach and remove necessary items such as your food, beds, bedding or clothing. There are also limitations on other things, such as tools of trade you may need to carry out your work, these cannot be attached.

South Africa has 362 sheriffs:

172 are white     137 are Africa     28 in India     25 are Coloured

If a sheriff comes to your home or place of work ask for proof of identification, listen carefully to the sheriffs instructions,  be sure to understand what is required of you, do not interfere with the sheriff or deputy sheriff from performing their duties, and do not give false or misleading information.

Remember the sheriff acts under orders from the court. If you do not follow the instructions you may be liable for prosecution and further costs

Citizens rights when it comes to sheriffs
  • The sheriff must treat you with dignity and respect at all times
  • The sheriff must explain the contents of the document and what you need to do next
  • The sheriff must as far as possible keep your private affairs confidential 
  • The sheriff may not attach and remove necessary items such as food and beds, bedding and clothes. There are also limitations on other things, such as tools of trade you may need to carry out your work, which may not be attached.

The department is working hard to transform the sherriff’s profession in the country to ensure that it reflects the demographics of the country in respect of race and gender. A guide for sheriffs titled “The South African Sheriffs’ Guide: Practice and Procedure was launched recently. It aims to transform the profession. Prior to the 1994 administration, there were 465 sheriffs operating nationally. Of these 22 were women, 414 were white, 44 were African, 5 were Coloured and 2 were Indian. To date the total number of permanent sheriffs currently operating in the country from is 362. Of these 362 sheriffs, 172 are white, 137 are African, 28 are Indian and 25 are Coloured. There are now 83 women sheriffs in the country.

Sheriffs report to the South African Board for sheriffs and must comply with various laws when performing their duties. If you have a complaint, or if you are unsure of your rights, contact the South African Board for Sheriffs at 021 426 0577 or email

*Sinenhlanhla Mkhwanzi works for the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development

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