Question Vanessa Law

What South African Laws Governed Public Access to Beaches During Apartheid?

What South African laws govern public access to beaches in apartheid Era? How were the rights of public affected by restricted access? Where does the law stand now?

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Answer Internal Staff

The South African (SA) law that previously governed a public citizen’s access to beaches was the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act 1953 (1953 Act). Within this Act it was entirely permissible to legally enforce the ‘Blankes Alleen’ (Afrikaans for ‘Whites Only’) notices (1953 Act, s.2), that prior to the Act had been placed around areas of ‘public’ access.

Provisions within the Act allowed the direct discrimination of people from public premises/vehicles due to their ‘race or class’ (1953 Act, s.2). The Act’s purpose was to remove the ability for the non-white people of SA to rightfully enjoy the same amenities as the white population, evidenced by the enforcement of the Acts public exclusion zones only being limited to non-whites.

Exceptions to the Act were only made for foreign dignitaries or those whom had been given a special ‘certificate’ (1953 Act, s.4). This provision’s inclusion can be safely assumed as an addition perceived necessary to mitigate international-political conflict.

In terms of enforcement the Act created a criminal offence. A breach of said offence i.e. entering an area prohibited by a ‘Blankes Alleen’ or similar notice, allowed for the person to be arrested, fined or both by the relevant authorities (1953 Act, s.2).

The Act was finally repealed in the Public Amenities Repeal Act 1990.

Now the right for equality before the law is contained in SA’s constitution (Ch.2, s.9).

In 2008 the Integrated Coastal Management Act was introduced and contained in its wording an express affirmation of the constitutional right of equality in relation to access to the public coastline i.e. beaches, through primary legislative authority.


Constitution of the Republic of South Africa 1996

Integrated Coastal Management Act 2008

Public Amenities Repeal Act 1990 (SA)

Reservation of Separate Amenities Act 1953 (SA)