Mid-tropospheric cut-off low (COL) pressure systems are linked to severe weather, heavy rainfall and extreme cold conditions over South Africa. They occur during all the above and often result in floods and snowfalls during the winter months, disrupting economic activities and causing extensive damage to infrastructure. This paper examines the evolution and circulation patterns associated with cases of severe COLs over South Africa. We evaluate the performance of the 4.4 km Unified Model (UM) which is currently used operationally by the South African Weather Service (SAWS) to simulate daily rainfall. Circulation variables and precipitation simulated by the UM were compared against European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecast’s (ECMWF’s) ERA Interim re-analyses and GPM precipitation at 24-hour timesteps. We present five recent severe COLs, which occurred between 2016 and 2019, that had high impact and found a higher model skill when simulating heavy precipitation during the initial stages than the dissipating stages of the systems. A key finding was that the UM simulated the precipitation differently during the different stages of development and location of the systems. This is mainly due to inaccurate placing of COL centers. Understanding the performance and limitations of the UM model in simulating COL characteristics can benefit severe weather forecasting and contribute to disaster risk reduction in South Africa.