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Mafumbu, L.; , .; Kalumba, A.M. Exploring Coastal Access in South Africa. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 15 April 2024).
Mafumbu L,  , Kalumba AM. Exploring Coastal Access in South Africa. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed April 15, 2024.
Mafumbu, Luyanda, , Ahmed Mukalazi Kalumba. "Exploring Coastal Access in South Africa" Encyclopedia, (accessed April 15, 2024).
Mafumbu, L., , ., & Kalumba, A.M. (2022, April 06). Exploring Coastal Access in South Africa. In Encyclopedia.
Mafumbu, Luyanda, et al. "Exploring Coastal Access in South Africa." Encyclopedia. Web. 06 April, 2022.
Exploring Coastal Access in South Africa

Coastal spaces have been highly contested terrains in South Africa, dating from the colonial period to the present time. Inclusive documentation of the history of coastal access in South Africa is inadequate. The alienation of the African majority from coastal access in South Africa has been systematically executed through various legislations. Although 1994 (democratic era) ushered in a political change, coastal spaces in South Africa still reflect historical racial divide, with former Caucasian areas well-endowed with facilities whilst others are still underdeveloped. The lack of access to coastal resources remains a challenge to many previously disadvantaged communities, owing to South Africa’s history of Apartheid. Apartheid spatial planning remains a factor that undermines equitable access to the coast.

coast access history South Africa

1. Introduction

The South African coastline stretches for some 3000 km from the Orange River at the Namibian border in the west to Kosi Bay near the Mozambique border in the east. The coastline defines the area where the land meets the sea/ocean. It is the line that divides these two types of geographical topographies. The ability to enjoy natural resources has a significant impact on people’s life and their well-being. Historically, the coast provided services to people through estuarine and marine ecosystems, such as marine products, raw material, recreation, cultural and spiritual services. Access to the shoreline in South Africa, as with other areas of environmental and socioeconomic management, has been uniquely shaped by the historical spatial-political planning of the Apartheid, which is a policy whereby people were separated based on race during the 1940s [1]. This historic spatial-political planning of the Apartheid has shaped the current disproportionate access and development along the coast [2].

2. Access to the Coast during the Pre-Colonial Era

Historically, the Khoisan and Black Africans are recognized as the two indigenous groups that occupied the South African landscape far before the official recording of history [3]. The Khoisan settled on the west coast of South Africa, whilst the coast on the eastern side was mainly occupied by the Xhosas and Zulus [4]. Figure 1 shows the coastal map of South Africa that generally reflect a colonial spatial order where many African communities were alienated from coastal spaces. The coastal regions of the South-Western Cape were heavily occupied by pastoralists known as the Khoikhoi [5]. Before the settlers’ arrival, history records that the San people were living in peace along the coast enjoying crayfish, mussels, perlemoen, and seals as their basic foods, and the archaeological evidence of the fish bones found in the coastal caves inhabited by the San shows that they were skillful fishermen [6]. The Khoisan could also collect ample marine resources, such as mussels and crayfish, as well as veldkos (berries or corms) [7]. Archaeological evidence depicts Southern Africa as an area where native people initially started to use the oceans for their livelihood [8]. Since ancient times, the ocean has been used for livelihoods, food, recreation, and healing as well as being places of ancestral worship for indigenous people [9]. As far back as two million years ago, the coast was a place of survival, recreation, and dwelling for people, and this is shown by the discovery of certain tools and middens along the west coast [8]. Owing to their nomadic nature, these groups had the liberty to move and access coastal resources for their pleasure and livelihood. The pre-colonial era presents a period in history where indigenous people of South Africa had open access to coastal resources.
Figure 1. South Africa Map after the European Invasion [10].

3. Access to the Coast during the Colonial Era

This period depicts the beginning of a well-orchestrated isolation of indigenous people from the South African coast. As the Caucasian settlers arrived in 1652 to the Cape of Good Hope, the subsequent invasion of land and dislocation of indigenous people began in South Africa [11]. Within 50 to 100 years of European colonization, the marine hunter-gatherer way of life along the south and west coasts had practically vanished [7]. During this time, society’s relation and the environment were disrupted, legacies that are still evident today [12]. The confiscation of the coastal land by Dutch farmers was the first encounter that exploded between the Dutch and the Khoisan [13]. In 1658, the first action of forced relocation in South Africa was initiated by Jan van Riebeeck when he informed the Khoisan that they should leave the west of the Salt and Liesbeek rivers [14]. The Khoisan viewed the Dutch settlers as competition for the available grazing land and as intruders who were restricting their movement. On the other side, Europeans viewed the Khoisan as inferior and a source of cheap labor [13]. The largest part of the Western Cape was under Dutch authority towards the end of the 16th century and Caucasian farmers were given most of the land as freehold. Ultimately, this forced most of the Khoisan to move north where the land was desolate and not fertile. Significantly, the coast represents the first historical point of conflict between the Caucasian settlers and the African indigenous people of South Africa. During this period, the restriction and dislocation of indigenous people to coastal resources also escalated. Various pieces of segregation legislation were used as mechanisms through which movement along the coast and access to coastal resources were limited. For instance, in 1809, the British government passed the Hottentot proclamation to control and limit the mobility of the labor force. In 1894, the Glen Grey Act (Act No. 25) was promulgated, and it created separate areas for Black people, while simultaneously directing their economic activities [15]. Due to these concerted discrimination measures, the indigenous people lost their coastal land to the Europeans. Moreover, they lost their ability to move along the coast. In 1879, the Native Location Act was also promulgated and built a firm groundwork for the Native Land Act of 1913. The Apartheid was entrenched in this Act and, consequently, beach Apartheid and territorial segregation formalized the restrictions on Black land ownership [16].
Beaches and other exclusive areas, such as the coastline, were not spared from the discrimination laws during the colonial time [17]. Although beach discrimination was formally practiced in South Africa throughout the last century, stringent policy measures were adopted during the Apartheid government. Local authorities were empowered by the Reservation of Separate Amenities Amendment Act of 1960 to implement beach discrimination. Furthermore, this policy gave authority to persons in charge of public properties, which also included the seashore, to preserve those spaces for certain racial groups [17]. Even walking on the beach demarcated for the “Whites Only” was a punishable crime in South Africa [18]. Over and above dividing the country into Caucasian and non-Caucasian groups, people could only attain property rights in their areas [19]. Discriminatory practices, such as denying equality for land based on race, also posed serious economic, environmental and social consequences for Black Africans.
When the Pact government came into power in 1924, it pursued the elimination of Black African’s abilities to access land and further create a standardized Black administration system throughout the country. In 1927, J.B.M Hertzog (then Minister of Native Affairs) created the Black Administration Act (Act No. 38 of 1927). This Act became one of the primary mechanisms for the forceful removal of Africans in certain places [20]. Section 5 (1b) of the Act contained powers for ensuring effective implementation of these forced removals. Included in these forced removals was the dislodgment of the natives from their ancestral land along the coast. For instance, between the 1890s and the 1930s, the state removed the Black communities from the coastal areas in the Eastern Cape, while Caucasian people established hotels, such as Haven, and holiday cottages in the same areas [21]. In early 1893, the British government seized areas, such as Dwesa–Cwebe coastal land on both sides of the river, dispossessing indigenous communities of their land [22]. Similarly, this period was marked by the perpetual removal of indigenous communities of South Africa from their coastal land.

4. Access to the Coast during Apartheid

The formalization of Apartheid in 1948 gave way to the formal isolation of people from natural resources, such as coastal resources. By the middle and late 20th century, denial of access to marine and coastal resources to certain racial groups was in full force in South Africa [8]. Within the first two decades, the National Party government ensured that many laws were promulgated in support of the Apartheid ideology of racially segregated spaces [23]. Apartheid ensured that the environmental resources were secured for the benefit of the select community of the Caucasian minority. Apartheid promoted environmental scarceness for Africans and subsequently created a scene for societal conflicts [24]. Under the Apartheid government, access rights to coastal and marine resources were largely denied to black South Africans. For instance, very large Caucasian-owned fishing enterprises controlled about 90% of the country’s fish resources worth an estimated ZAR 2 billion a year [25].
In 1935, the Sea Shore Act was passed as the first legislation dedicated to coastal management in South Africa [26]. Because of this law, Black people were prohibited from settling near the high watermark of the coast and from using the marine resources to which they have the historical access right [27]. However, the Sea Shore Act declared the Queen of England as the owner of the seashore and the sea within the territorial waters of South Africa. To address this problem, in 1972, the Minister of Agriculture amended this Act by giving control of the beaches to local and provincial authorities [16]. The Sea-Shore Act (1935) was a typical example of the destruction of public rights in the coastal zone [28]. In terms of this Act, Africans became the most ostracized race whereby the best-developed beaches were allocated to the Europeans with the inscription ‘whites only’ [29]. The beaches allocated to Europeans had better facilities, were nearer to the city and easily accessible, whereas beaches for non-Europeans were either underdeveloped for recreational use or absolute treacherous [17]. Safety for African beaches was completely disregarded during the Apartheid, as they were highly underdeveloped and inappropriately located. In 1965, beaches allocated to Africans in the Cape were considerably far from their homes, lacking in facilities and services [30]. In Natal, by 1988, 90% of the shoreline was set aside wholly for Caucasians [8]. Contrarily, Blacks, who made up 46% of the population, were allocated only 650 m of beach [30]. Chiba reverberated in a poem about beach Apartheid ‘that Muizenberg beach with its shocking blue sea/sundrenched/but denied to me’ [31].
In 1950, the Apartheid government passed The Group Areas Act to ensure Caucasian people were exclusively located on the seaside and other prime lands [32]. In 1953, the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act was passed and caused administrative complications in the coastal areas. For example, according to Section 2 (1) of this Act, “Any person who is in charge of or has control of any public premises or any public vehicle, whether as owner or lessee or whether under his office or otherwise, or any person acting under his control or direction may, whenever he deems it expedient and in such manner or by such means as he may consider most convenient for informing all persons concerned, set apart or reserve such premises or such vehicle or any portion of such premises or such vehicle or any counter, bench, seat or other amenity or contrivance in or on such premises or vehicle, for the exclusive use of persons belonging to a particular race or class” [33]. This Act also ushered in isolated facilities, such as toilets, beaches, and parks, for different race groups. This Act failed to define beach occupation and consequently, the implementation of beach segregation was delayed until a definition could be resolved and subsequently enforced by law [23]. Another problem for the Apartheid authorities was that the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act of 1953 could not authorize local governments to effect beach segregation [29]. Although local authorities could preserve public premises for the exclusive use of persons of a particular race, the term ‘land’ only included the land above the high watermark [34]. To address such shortcomings, the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act of 1953 was amended in 1960 with the definition clause that the land includes the sea and sea shore [30]. The amendment resolved the problem of definition and the direction was clear towards the full implementation of coastal segregation in South Africa. Other than separating people along racial lines, the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act of 1953 also pushed African people away from the pristine coastline, effectively disempowering and discouraging their ability to enjoy and benefit from coastal resources. These efforts were also designed to collapse African’s self-reliance and determination and force them to become cheap labor in mines and farms. Apartheid authorities carried a series of evictions and created labor reserves with high population concentrations, and growth rates that were against the natural population increase or voluntary migration [35].
In 1988, the Apartheid government promulgated the Sea Fisheries Act that ushered in the system of individual transferable quota (ITQ) in the fishing industry of South Africa, and this system was suggested by the Diemont Commission, which the then President ordered in 1985 [36]. The key features of this system were the privatization of marine resources, enormous profit margins, and maximizing proficiency [37]. It was clear that ITQ was predominantly concerned with advancing economic gains rather than protection, community well-being, or impartiality [38]. Through this system, the bulk of fishing rights was accorded to a few individuals. In achieving the objectives of this system, social equity and small-scale family-based units had to be destroyed as the growth of the larger, capitalist enterprises emerged. Through the Sea Fisheries Act, small-scale fisheries were severely affected and Black communities were confined mainly into cheap labor within the fishing business [39].
In 1989, the Environmental Conservation Act (ECA) was passed to take care of all environmental issues in South Africa [40]. However, this policy did not advocate for the equitable use of natural resources, including advancing a people-centered rather than a resource-centered approach. Previously disadvantaged communities experienced most of the negative effects of environmental degradation due to bad planning and racially motivated urban designs during the Apartheid [41]. Since ECA was developed under the Apartheid, the equitable beneficiation of natural resources failed to advance, despite its good intentions. As such, the 1970s represent an era whereby coastal management in South Africa was disjointed and uncoordinated, and more attention was given to promote a singular purpose and for the exclusive beneficiation of environmental resources [42]. The Apartheid government continued with the colonial act of evicting people from their land. For instance, in Ngqushwa in the Eastern Cape, Amazizi and Ama Gqunukhwebe communities were forcibly removed from their ancestral land along the Fish River and Mpekweni [43]. This period again was associated with the displacement and restriction of indigenous communities of South Africa to access coastal resources/spaces.

5. Access to the Coast during a Democratic Period

The post-Apartheid period, from 1994, ushered a new dawn in the political space of South Africa. During this period, old Apartheid and colonial laws were abolished and new progressive laws were passed. In 1989, shortly after taking on the presidency, President F.W. de Klerk ordered the abolishment of the beach Apartheid [44]. He achieved this through the repeal of the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act of 1953. Arguably, many South Africans do not view President de Klerk as a pioneer for ending beach Apartheid [44]. The credit for ending beach Apartheid belongs to the concerted efforts of resistance that civic organizations exerted against the Apartheid [44]. Non-European groups who were supported by political activists continuously ignored Apartheid laws and invaded beaches reserved for Caucasians only [45]. Consequently, Apartheid authorities started to feel the pressure, and discrimination laws started to crumble. The constitution of South Africa was passed in 1996, foregrounded on the principles of equality, fairness, justice, to mention a few. Premised on Section 24 of the Constitution, the National Environmental Management Act 107 was passed in 1998. This Act aims to advance premised equitable access to natural resources based on the principle of public trust doctrine. According to the public trust doctrine, natural resources are regarded as public goods and people’s common heritage. To eliminate the exclusive use of coastal resources, the Integrated Coastal Management Act (ICM Act) was passed in 2008. This act views the coast as a national asset that belongs to all citizens of the Republic of South Africa. To improve public access to the seashore, Section 11 of the ICM Act declares the “coastal public property” as a zone that is owned wholly by the citizens of South Africa [46].


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