A race row has erupted in South Africa after a private security company allegedly ordered black revellers to vacate a fashionable Cape Town beach over the Christmas holiday.

A sheep was slaughtered on Clifton beach on Friday in a supposed ritual to tackle racism after beachgoers were told to leave the beach by guards from the PPA company last Sunday, two days before Christmas. That, in turn, prompted some people to protest against animal cruelty.

Beaches, like many public areas, were segregated under white-minority apartheid rule, and have since been a flashpoint of racial tension in South Africa.

Cape Town’s mayor dismissed claims by the security firm that it was working for the city authorities when patrolling the beach at Clifton, an upmarket coastal suburb.

Mayor Dan Plato said the company “had no authority to ask anyone to leave Clifton beach”, but he added that “they asked people of all races to leave, and did not single out any race groups”.

He accused some “opportunistic political organisations” of exploiting the incident “to drive a highly divisive and politicised racial agenda”.

Local activist Chumani Maxwele claimed the guards had targeted black people on the beach, which attracts huge crowds over the holiday season.

“These private security guards are hired by the Clifton [residents], they are actually briefed to not allow black people who appear to look like they are from the townships, or [look like] criminals, onto the beach,” he told the News 24 website. “The offering of the sheep is calling on our ancestors to respond to our trauma at the hands of white people.”

The city has appealed for people who felt threatened or intimidated by security guards to lodge a complaint with the police.

This is the latest in a series of controversies over the issue of racism on South Africa’s beaches.

In 2016, South African property agent Penny Sparrow likened black beachgoers to monkeys in a social media post, triggering widespread outrage. She was fined 150,000 rand (US$10,500).

In September, white South African tourist Adam Catzavelos ignited another storm of protest after he used a racial slur in a phone video message from Greece, boasting that the beach had no black people on it.