National Key Points

At 6.7 square kilometres, Gibraltar is about the same size as the Sandton Central Business District. It may be a tiny country on the southern tip of Spain (and a large proportion of it is just a rock) but that is what makes it one of the most strategically important pieces of land in the entire universe. With the northern coast of Morocco a mere 13 km across the sea, the Strait of Gibraltar sees half the world’s seaborne trade passing through, and so it is a naval choke point of note. It has little other value, but is a ‘British Overseas Territory’ – for this reason alone, and so is a bone of contention between the United Kingdom and Spain, and has been for a long time. There are many other strategically key points around the globe. The Suez Canal is one, and so is Cape Town, due to their status for shipping en route to the East.

South Africa also has key points – in fact, we have over two hundred of them, designated by the Minister of Safety and Security in terms of the National Key Points Act 1980. Although, as its date announces, it is law that was implemented by the apartheid government, it has been a busy piece of legislation in recent times as well. Not so long ago, when public money was used on the notorious Nkandla upgrade, it was declared a national key point and the Act was used to try and stifle disclosures and reporting about it.

If it appears to the Minister, at any time, that any place or area is so important that its loss, damage, disruption or immobilization may prejudice the Republic (or whenever he considers it necessary, or expedient for the safety of the Republic, or in the public interest) he may declare that place or area a National Key Point.

A. Duties of owner

  1. The Minister will advise the owner of the appointment of his property as a national key point, and once that happens the owner is obliged to take certain steps with regard to its security – at his own expense. If the owner refuses or fails to do so, he commits a crime.1

  2. The same applies where there is more than one owner of property in a so-called Key Points Complex. If an owner receives that notification, he is obliged to take the steps set out and is guilty of an offence should he fail to do so, regardless of whether he has been prevented, frustrated, or delayed by the others –and even if they render it impossible.2

B. Furnishing information to the Minister

  1. In order to make a decision, the Minister can call for information relating to or in connection with any place or area. If any person, in response to such an order, furnishes information which is false or incorrect he commits an offence.3

  2. It is a crime to disclose that information to anyone else.4

C. General offences

  1. If you hinder, obstruct or thwart any person doing anything required to be done in terms of the Act, you commit a crime.5

  2. If you hinder, obstruct, or thwart any owner of property who is taking the required steps as to its security (because it has been designated a National Key Point) you commit an offence.6

  3. In fact, if you furnish, in any manner, any information about the security measures applicable at a National Key Point, without authorization by the Minister, you commit an offence.7

D. Official Secrets Act

There is a general provision which says that if you do anything at or in connection with a National Key Point which would have constituted an offence in terms of the Official Secrets Act 1956 if done in respect of a ‘prohibited place’ in terms of that Act, it will also be an offence in terms of this Act.8 The Official Secrets Act was repealed ages ago, but the principle (and prohibition) still applies.

A prohibited place is: (a) any work of defence belonging to, used by or occupied by or on behalf of the Government; (b) any place where munitions of war (anything that could be used in war or the defence of the country) are being kept, built, repaired, or made; (c) any place where sketches, plans, models or documents relating to munitions of war are being kept, made, built, repaired or obtained; and (d) any place declared by the State President to be a prohibited place.

  1. It is prohibited, if there is a purpose prejudicial to the safety or interests of the country, to do any of the following in relation to a prohibited place:
    • approach, inspect, pass over, be in its neighbourhood, or enter it;
    • make any sketch, plan, model or note directly or indirectly useful to an enemy;
    • obtain, collect, record, publish or communicate any secret official code or password; and
    • obtain, collect, record, publish or communicate any sketch, plan, model, article, document, information or note which is likely to be useful, directly or indirectly, to an enemy.9
  2. It is also prohibited to be in possession of basically anything concerning or relating to a prohibited place, and:
    • communicate or give it to someone not authorised to receive it;
    • use it in anyway prejudicial to the safety or interest of the Republic;
    • retain possession of it without any right to do so;
    • fail to comply with any directions regarding its disposal or return;
    • fail to take proper care of it;
    • conduct yourself in such a way as to endanger its safety.10
  3. For the purpose of gaining or assisting someone to gain access to a prohibited place, or for any other purpose prejudicial to the safety or interests of the Republic, the following are offences:
    • use or wear any uniform or anything similar to an official uniform;
    • pretend falsely to be someone entitled to use or wear such a uniform;
    • make any false statement;
    • omit any relevant fact from any statement or document;
    • forge, alter or tamper with any official document;
    • have such a document in your possession;
    • use such a document;
    • impersonate or falsely pretend to be a Government official;
    • be a person (or not be a person) to whom an official document, secret code or password has been issued;
    • have in your possession or use (without authorization) any stamp, die, or seal of the Republic or one which closely resembles such a stamp, seal or die.11
  4. It is an offence to obstruct, interfere with or mislead any guard, sentry, patrol, or other person on duty in relation to a prohibited place.12
  1. Section 3(3) read with section 3(1). 

  2. Section 3(5). 

  3. Section 4(2)a. 

  4. Section 4(2)b. 

  5. Section 10(2)b. 

  6. Section 10(2)a. 

  7. Section 10(2)c – so I could not tell you, for example, that there is an electric fence around the SA Mint. 

  8. Section 10(1). 

  9. These are all covered by Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act (now repealed). 

  10. These are all covered by Section 3 of the Official Secrets Act (now repealed). 

  11. Section 4 of the Official Secrets Act (now repealed). 

  12. Section 5 of the Official Secrets Act (now repealed).