This study aimed to explore the provision of public recreation to the citizens of South Africa under two distinct political ideologies of ‘Apartheid’ and the current democratic political system. Results from this qualitative and descriptive study of public recreation provision under two distinct political ideologies in South African apartheid and democracy are presented. Five themes emerged from an inductive content analysis: Philosophy and policies of public recreation service provision; Governance of public recreation provision; Legislation related to public recreation provision; Public recreation programmes and initiatives; and Recreation training and education initiatives. Findings suggested that similarities and differences of service provision existed, and neither of the two ideologies succeeded in optimising public recreation provision as instruments of social transformation to support the notion that public recreation benefits all. Although the political ideology of democracy brought progress and structure in terms of recreation policy, legislation, education and training, fragmentation of governance structures, lack of coordination, and a myopic focus on physical recreation were evident under both ideologies. It seems as if most South African citizens continue to be excluded from recreation access and opportunities as a social space conducive to individual exploration, reflecting social, cultural intellectual and spiritual growth.