How to make your electrical stuff work in South Africa

South African switched outlets

The is a dual South African outlet.  (Each outlet has a switch above it, which seems to be common here.)  Before leaving, I went online and bought a cable with a "universal" 2-pin connector on one end and a South African plug on the other.

universal 2-pin

South African plug

The South African plug looks like something you’d use to plug in a 40-amp, 220 V clothes dryer, but it’s just their every day plug.  A power strip with 3 of these is the same length as a power strip with 7 or 8 standard US outlets and a good bit wider.  Heh.

One would assume that the Dell power supply would take the universal 2 pin connector.  I mean, that’s the point of a universal power supply – you just change the power cord to the local standard and viola.  Right???


A standard 2-pin almost fits into those 2 pins on the right, but not quite.  What was Dell thinking?

So now I’m in trouble.  I have my laptop, but I’ve used up the batteries on the flight.  Without a way to plug in and recharge, all the computer stuff I brought is just dead weight.

I have another, similar problem too.  I bought an external charger for my camcorder batteries but it came with a 2-pin North America plug and no interchangeable power cord.

camcorder battery charger

It’s has a universal internal power supply, but a non-interchangeable plug. 

As it turns out, this is a very common problem with an equally common solution.  In my short time here I’ve seen many outlets with adapters such as the one below plugged in to them.  This adapter plugs into the SA 3-pin outlet and provides a SA 3-pin and two European 2-pin outlets.  (There are lots of things sold around here that have European plugs on them.)

South African outlet adapter

So what I need is something like this but with a North American outlet on it (into which I must take care to plug only universal power supplies).  A small, local computer shop had just the thing.

SA outlet adapter

SA outlet adapter with North American outlets

This plugs in to the SA outlet and provides an SA outlet on the front and two multi-country outlets on the sides – a 2-pin and a 3-pin.  Although it looks a bit odd, it does accept NA plugs.  Eureka!

adapter with Dell power supply plugged in

As a side benefit, this adapter also solves the problem of my camcorder battery charger.  Here is the SA outlet with the NA adapter, a European adapter, my Dell power supply plug, and my camcorder charger all stacked up.  It’s ridiculous, but it works!

adapter stack

Moral of the story, instead of buying universal power cords for the country you’re visiting, find out if it’s easier to use an adapter.  I did have a use for the one power cord I bought, though.  It readily fits the camcorder power supply.

camcorder power supply

Why couldn’t Dell have made it this easy?

One thought on “How to make your electrical stuff work in South Africa

  1. Michael September 26, 2012 / 2:19 pm

    Great, you now understand the meaning of the phrase, “‘n boer maak ‘n plan.” For even more fun, be a South African traveling around South America. I think the electrical system was designed by a guy from Dell. šŸ˜‰

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