THE right of access to the beach is a particularly sensitive issue in Cape Town, where for so many years the best beaches were closed to most of the city’s population.

It was only after long battles by anti-apartheid activists that the old “whites only” signs were stripped off Cape Town’s beaches and the shore was opened to everyone. Capetonians who lived through the 1980s will not forget the sight of Archbishop Desmond Tutu leading activists in protest along a “whites only” beach.

Today the beaches belong to everyone and at this time of year people from all over the city flood the coast in the summer heat.

But the right of public access to the sea, once won, must still be maintained. Today a new activism is needed to defend the right of access, against attack not by apartheid politicians bent on social engineering but by developers in search of profit.

In this respect all Capetonians owe a debt to the Seafront for All (Seafa) organisation which has successfully fended off attempts by a developer to build a luxury hotel and spa on the Sea Point pavilion site, next to what must be one of the world’s most beautiful public pools. The land, which is owned by the city of Cape Town, is zoned as public open space, and so it should be. The developers won the right to build on the site more than 10 years ago but a determined battle, mostly by residents of Sea Point, ended in victory when the MEC for development planning, Anton Bredell, rejected the proposal.

Developers are also eye-ing another public open space, this one not along the coast but next to a vlei. And once again a group of residents is steadfastly resisting development, pointing out that for decades people have come to Princess Vlei to picnic, fish, walk and celebrate. The space has biological, historical and cultural meaning and is a key part of the city’s vlei system.

Just how seriously Capetonians take any attempt to encroach on these spaces was again demonstrated this week when Kalk Bay residents complained at the “takeover” and “privatisation” of part of the coastline by a local restaurant which has extended a deck area onto the beach.

Issues of this nature affect not only the residents of these areas, but all Cape Town’s population. These are battles worth winning.