The threat, which could also arrive in the form of an £800,000 fine, is designed to prevent panic and economic damage caused by false predictions of gale force winds, flash flooding or drought.

Large parts of South Africa are affected by adverse weather.

Coastal areas are often buffeted by extremely strong winds that can be dangerous for seafarers.

Low-lying inland areas, particularly in the hotter north, experience lengthy droughts. Highland areas surrounding the country’s political capital Pretoria often suffer intense electrical and rainstorms.

The amendment in South Africa’s Weather Service Bill, currently being scrutinised by the country’s ruling African National Congress (ANC), would mean that anyone wanting to announce that impending severe weather was on the horizon would require official permission.

Opposition party Democratic Alliance (DA) described the law change as an attempt to “establish and protect an unfair monopoly on services offered by the Weather Service”.

Spokesman Gareth Morgan said that if a citizen who had seen an approaching tornado, would be unable to broadcast this information – either on TV, the internet or radio – without first applying for written permission to do so.

However, Isham Abader, of the department of environmental affairs, was quoted by South Africa’s Mail and Guardian newspaper as saying: “The Bill merely seeks to prevent the transmission of unreliable information.

“Incorrect weather warnings could lead to the evacuation of an entire town at great expense to the tax payer.”