Many of us have heard or seen the name Malala Yousafzai, but whether we would recognise it, or even have a small recollection of her significance is doubtful. Well, on 9 October 2012, when she was just fifteen, Malala was the subject of an assassination attempt by a Taliban gunman. And that was because, as a young Pakistani girl, she spoke out – and began blogging for the BBC – against the denial by the Taliban of her right to an education. The bullet he fired, aboard the school bus on her way home, hit the left side of her head and travelled down her neck. Malala suffered no brain damage, but it was five months before she could attend school again – this time, in the United Kingdom. Two years after the attack, Malala Yousafzai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, becoming the youngest person ever to receive the award.1

The Nobel prizes are a famous institution, and almost as many awards have been made to recipients in the peace category2 (96) than in literature (108), physics (109) chemistry (107) or medicine (106).3 What is not so well known is that their founder, Alfred Nobel, was a Swedish industrialist whose fortune – in his will, he left the equivalent of US$265 million, in today’s terms, to fund the prizes4 – was made from weapons of war. Alfred Nobel invented dynamite, but not one Nobel Prize has been awarded for any achievements to do with war, weapons or explosives.

Explosives are, of course, fascinating things. But they are dangerous (which is probably why they are so fascinating) and their manufacture, sale, acquisition and use is carefully regulated.

For the purposes of the Explosives Act 1956, an ‘explosive’ means:

  • gunpowder, nitroglycerine, dynamite, guncotton, blasting powders, explosive metallic salts, coloured fires, and every other substance used or manufactured to produce a pyrotechnic or a practical effect by explosion; and
  • any fuse, rocket, detonator, cartridge and adaptations or preparation of all these.

The definition includes fireworks.

A. Sale and manufacture

  1. It is an offence to sell or deal in any explosive unless you are in possession of a licence granted by the Minister of Police.5

  2. It is a crime to manufacture any explosive unless it is manufactured solely for purposes of chemical experiment, or for practical trial as an explosive, and in such quantities and under such conditions as may be prescribed in writing by an inspector.6

  3. You may not manufacture any explosive in any place other than an explosives factory7 – except if permission is obtained and subject to such conditions as may be prescribed.8 It is an offence to do otherwise.

  4. A permit9 is needed for the following:

    • to supply any explosive (other than fireworks) to any other person;10
    • to acquire any explosive (other than fireworks) from any other person;11
    • to keep, store or be in possession of any explosive in or on any premises otherwise than in an isolated place and in accordance with such conditions as may be prescribed by an inspector;12
    • to import into or export from the Republic any explosive.13

Any conduct in contravention of these provisions is an offence.

B. Plastic explosives

Plastic explosives are more dangerous. They have added controls.

  1. Except if it is under conditions prescribed by the Chief Inspector of Explosives and for purposes of research and development, or training, or for purposes of forensic science, any plastic explosive must be marked according to the Convention on the Marking of Plastic Explosives.14 It is an offence not to do so.

C. Blasting

Blasting is where explosives are used to move rock in mines, quarries, road construction, and so forth.

  1. It is a crime to use any explosive for the purpose of blasting unless you are in possession of a permit; or you are under the immediate and constant supervision of a person who is in possession of such a permit.15

  2. It is an offence to permit anyone to use any blasting material unless such other person has a permit, or is under the immediate and constant supervision of a person who has a permit.16

  1. – ‘Malala Yousafzai’. 

  2. His Excellency Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and former State Presidents FW De Klerk and Nelson Mandela are famous recipients in this category. 

  3. – ‘Nobel Prize Facts’. 

  4. Ibid

  5. Section 7. 

  6. Section 3(1). 

  7. Section 4(1). 

  8. Section 4(1A)(a). 

  9. Issued by an inspector in terms of the Explosives Act. 

  10. Section 7(4). 

  11. Section 7(5). 

  12. Section 6(1)(d). 

  13. Section 8. 

  14. Section 8A. 

  15. Section 9(1). 

  16. Section 9(2).