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Between the local government elections, Brexit, #FeesMustFall, the goings on at the National Prosecuting Authority, the State Capture Report and the triumph of Trump, it has certainly been an eventful 2016. While we have been entertained by social media depictions of the arrival of Jesus during the local elections and the ongoing search for the #SaxonwoldShebeen, the jokes belie something far more serious.

Amidst the court interdicts, South Africa has been left rudderless as the ruling party turns on itself in its quest to protect privilege. Instead of focusing on the strategic management of South African resources to ensure growth, development and service delivery, far more effort appears to have been spent on diverting cash flows for the benefit of the privileged few.

The current leadership vacuum is also having a negative impact on the South African geospatial sector which has been working for years to gain the collective attention of South Africa’s national leadership. Whether via surveying, GIS or remote sensing, there is no denying that geomatics professionals have the strategic skills to assist with effective governance. However, the geomatics sector also needs the support of political leaders whose attention is focused on governing, not gathering.

The South African geomatics industry needs government leadership to recognise the urgent need to develop and implement national strategies, policies and legislation that will strengthen geospatial information management at local and national level. It needs leaders to understand and appreciate the role that geomatics plays in facilitating planning, revenue protection, asset and resource management, service delivery and disaster management. And it needs leaders to tackle the challenges of open data, as well as the issues of data security, availability, accessibility and privacy.

In the meantime though, people around the world have had enough of empty political promises and their impatience has led to the ANC losing ground during the local government elections, the Brexit vote in the UK, and the election of President Trump in the US.

These developments are a loud signal to political leaders that focused attention needs to be paid to the complex art of governing democratic societies. This entails governing for the benefit of the people, and not for the benefit of the elite at the expense of the poor.

In South Africa our elected officials need to check their consciences. Things cannot go on as they have been. Serious allegations have been raised about the management practices at our state-owned enterprises and in several of our national departments. The sooner these allegations are dealt with via an above-board judicial inquiry, the sooner honest government officials can resume their mandated responsibility of running South Africa.

In the meantime, the geomatics industry is standing at the ready with the geospatial data, skills and tools to ensure that government policies are carried out and that the allocated resources are distributed and utilised effectively for the benefit of the majority of South Africans.

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While the use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) in South Africa has taken off in recent years, it is actually illegal to fly or operate UAS or remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) in South Africa. Reiterating this point, the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) recently warned that it intends clamping down on the flying of UAS. The SACAA’s threat of a clampdown is pretty toothless however, as it is unable to detect UAS use via radar. No mention was made in the SACAA statement either of going after UAS distributors and service providers. Diluting the warning still further is the fact that to date, no-one has been prosecuted for flying UAS / RPAs in South Africa.

All is not lost though. Over the last few years South Africa has been working under the guidance of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to integrate UAS into the civil aviation sector. Part of this process involves the development of robust standards to regulate classes of UAS; certification and airworthiness requirements; command control and communication systems; licencing and training of remote pilots; accident detection and avoidance systems; as well as the allocation of a secure frequency spectrum to ensure protection from unintentional or unlawful interference. The ultimate aim of all this being to create a regulatory framework that supports the evolution of UAS whilst ensuring that they are operated in a safe, harmonised and seamless manner, as is the case with manned operations.

While the goals of this integration process are laudable, it is unfortunately a very lengthy process with the ICAO anticipating the publication of the minimum requirements with which member states must comply by the end of 2018, and full integration to take place by 2028. Clearly, it will be quite some time before a complete set of regulations can be put into place to regulate South Africa’s UAS sector. And where will the technological frontier be by then?

A major advantage of the ICAO and the SACAA taking this standards-based regulatory approach, however, is that once the framework is eventually adopted it will be possible to update UAS regulations by simply updating the standards, thereby avoiding the necessity of repeating the lengthy integration process currently underway.

Understanding that the UAS sector cannot be held in limbo until 2028, the SACAA is in the process of putting together an interim guidance document as a provisional solution to enable restricted operational approval on a case-by-case basis. The SACAA reports that significant progress has been made on this document, and its release is dependent on the ironing out of processes before it can be released for public consumption.

In a national safety seminar dealing with the Draft White Paper on Civil Aviation, Zakhele Thwala, the deputy director general of civil aviation at the Department of Transport, states that the current draft UAS Policy statements are under review and that the following matters, amongst others, have been identified for further attention: issues relating to security and privacy related matters; the liability and insurance implications of both non-commercial and commercial UAS operations; and the requirement for commercial operators to acquire licences and operating certificates in terms of the applicable air service licencing legislation.

While it may be immensely frustrating for South African users of UAS technology to be held up by regulatory bodies playing catch-up to technology, they can take comfort from knowing that UAS users and service providers across the world share their frustrations.

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The Protection of Information Bill has got a lot of people from all sectors of society up in arms. Thabo Makgoba, Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, says the bill “seeks to punish not lies or incorrect information about what our government is doing in our name, but rather truthful information based on official documents” (The Star, 2 September 2010). And the SA Association of Political Studies argues that the bill will handicap academic research by unreasonably “placing the onus on researchers and students to judge the security status of government documents” (The Star, 15 September 2010).

As Makgoba argues in his article, no one contests the need for government to keep secret strictly defined categories of information which could undermine national security if released to the general public. He even points out that the Promotion of Access to Information Act of 2000 already provides protection for this kind of sensitive information.

Concerns about the Protection of Information Bill in turn lead to questions about the impact this bill, if enacted, is likely to have on South Africa’s Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) which is struggling to get established. Efforts to construct our SDI are supported by the Spatial Data Infrastructure Act of 2003 which aims amongst other things to:

• Promote the use and sharing of spatial information in support of spatial planning, socio-economic development and related activities

• Create an environment which facilitates co-ordination and co-operation among all stakeholders regarding access to spatial information

• Promote universal access to such information

However, despite this act having been in place since 2003, there are many instances of government departments being unwilling to share their spatial data with other governmental structures. This goes against the intention of the SDI Act which was put in place to prevent the hoarding of spatial data which results in wasteful expenditure and efforts as government departments acquire and maintain duplicate datasets and systems. With some government personnel already wary of sharing spatial data, the enacting of the Protection of Information Bill is very likely to hinder any endeavours that seek to promote the sharing of spatial data.

This would be a great pity, particularly as in recent years we have seen the results of a broad funding consortium consisting of Stats SA, the Departments of Science and Technology, Agriculture, Water Affairs and Forestry, Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Provincial and Local Government, Defence, the Demarcation Board, the Development Bank of South Africa, the Independent Electoral Commission and Eskom  collaborating to generate the SPOT 5 national 2,5 m orthorectified mosaic of South Africa.  This national asset is freely available to all government and academic end-users empowering them in their endeavours to make our country a better place for all.

Attempts by government to stop the sharing of data are not in the national interest. As anyone who works in the geospatial sector knows, knowledge is power and proposals to limit this flow of information can only lead to less transparency and even less accountability.

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Prior to this year’s shake-up, companies like TomTom, Garmin and Magellan were content to buy their mapping data from major mapping suppliers Tele Atlas or Navteq, which are responsible for creating and constantly updating accurate street maps. Then came the unanticipated popularity of personal navigation devices, which turned this comfortable set-up on its head.

First off the mark back in March 2007 was integrated mailstream management solutions provider, Pitney Bowes, with the announcement of their intention to acquire MapInfo, a global provider of location intelligence solutions, for R2,7billion.

Next up in July 2007 was TomTom, Europe’s leading producer of personal navigation devices with an offer to purchase Tele Atlas, its mapping data supplier, for R18 billion. The race heated up on 1 October 2007 when Nokia took out the remaining international map content supplier, Navteq for R53 billion. (On a side note, Navteq supplies mapping data to major players like Google, Microsoft and Yahoo.)

When announcing the deal, Navteq president and CEO, Judson Green expressed his excitement at the thought of what could be achieved by combining Navteq’s location experience with the resources of Nokia, which has a customer base of more than 900 million people. The mind boggles at the possibilities here.

Garmin’s top management must have gone green at the gills on hearing the news – they obtain most of their mapping data from Navteq. Making matters worse, their main rival TomTom was in the process of acquiring the only other major map content supplier, Tele Atlas.

Moving quickly Garmin leapt into the race on 31 October 2007 with a rival cash offer for Tele Atlas. Not taking a chance on losing out, TomTom signaled their intention to increase their offer on 7 November. To TomTom’s relief I am sure, Tele Atlas indicated their willingness to accept TomTom’s revised offer the very next day.

Recently we have seen some action on South African territory with Tele Atlas acquiring a 76% stake in Pretoria-based Georigin, which specialises in map data from West, East and Southern Africa covering a population of 500 million people. Georigin in turn has a 49% interest in local company MapIT, which owns the rights to a map database of South Africa and Nigeria. Almost simultaneously Australian-based AAMHatch announced the acquisition of local company AOC Geomatics which provides survey and mapping services to South Africa and the rest of Africa.

This surge of interest in map content producers is good news for users of map data. We can expect more regular map updates as well as the introduction of a range of innovative mobile location-based services for both business and personal use. In the meantime though keep your eyes and ears open for Google and Microsoft’s reactions to all this market manoeuvering.

 

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While the big boys organise billion rand deals to ensure control of the rambunctious Sunday Times, the man in the street is feeling the impact of the international debt crunch. 

Potential losses from the sub-prime mortgage crisis currently stand at US$1 trillion and financial markets are jittery as the US government and the international banking sector persist in “hiding the corpses”, making a proper assessment of the damage impossible (“Dead men walking’ is no answer to the US lending plague”, Saturday Star – 10 November 2007). 

Money, money, money

South Africa is not immune to the effects of this international debt crisis. In addition, financial expert Bruce Cameron believes that we have yet to experience the full consequences of the “over-exuberant” lending by South African financial institutions in the build-up to the introduction of the National Credit Act (NCA) in June.

Already the average South African consumer is feeling the pinch with several interest rate hikes inflating their debt repayments. Applying for credit is no longer an easy answer for people experiencing cash flow problems with the restrictions of the NCA making it difficult for citizens to acquire more debt.

In the light of the financial squeeze being experienced by the average South African, how is it possible that Koni Media Holdings is able to get funding for its overvalued R7- billion bid for Johncom, owners of the Sunday Times? What about the financial muscle behind Mvelaphanda Holdings’ acquisition of 30% of Johncom and their rumoured intentions to further increase this stake (Business Report)? 

Obviously these deals are more than just financial in nature, media clout and political power being what they are ultimately about. But isn’t anyone questioning whether these politically inspired business deals are affordable in this shaky economic climate.  

Do the restrictions of the National Credit Act not affect the big boys too? Or do they know that it is the man in the street who will ultimately end up paying their bills?

Photo credit
Stock.xchng

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China has announced restrictions on foreign investment in some of its key industries. 

Sectors falling under this new restriction include property, financials, oil and rare metals, while investment in cleaning up the environment and developing renewable energy will be encouraged (Business Report). 

China rulesThe move is being seen as an attempt by Beijing to slow down its booming economy, but the turn towards protectionism has some analysts worried. It also flies in the face of China’s own investment strategies in Africa. 

According to reports, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) is prepared to pay R36,67 billion for 20 % of our very own Standard Bank (Mail & Guardian). If it comes off, it will be the biggest overseas acquisition by a Chinese bank to date.  

The world has been aware of Beijing’s moves to encourage Chinese economic expansion abroad, particularly in resource rich developing countries. But until now Chinese investment activities in Africa have focused on mining and infrastructure projects. This new foray into the African financial services signals the extent of China’s interest in Africa. 

Does this mean that Standard Bank with its network of 713 branches in South Africa and 240 in the rest of Africa is going to be the tool via which China will consolidate its economic influence over Africa (Fin24)? It certainly appears so. 

Will Standard Bank in turn be allowed to conduct a massive investment in China’s financial sector? It appears not. 

On one level the deal is good news for South Africa.  

Certainly we could do with a massive injection of foreign currency. Unlike China we are not blessed with an abundance of foreign reserves. But aside from the economy, how will all this cash affect South Africa? 

China makes no secret of the fact that it is not interested in influencing the politics of the countries it invests in. Unlike money from Western sources, Chinese loans do not come with political strings attached. A fact looked on with favour by many African leaders. However, who gets the money will certainly have an effect on who gets to play on the South African political stage. 

This massive investment is clearly going to have an influence on our democracy and just at a stage when it is starting to wobble slightly.  

Photo credit
HAAP Media Ltd

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Perfect passengers

Take-off

The passengers on the Nationwide Airlines flight that lost an engine last Wednesday impressed me no end. 

They sat calmly in their seats while their plane dramatically lost an engine on take-off and did not give in to mass panic. Some of them were even responsible for advising the cabin crew that the engine had fallen off. 

Newspaper and online reports have been full of praise for the pilot and the crew who, by all accounts, seem to have handled themselves wonderfully. However airline staff undergoes training for such eventualities. They know whether it is possible for a plane to continue flying after losing an engine and they know what they have to do to ensure that plane, crew, and passengers land safely.

The average person has no clue what it means when your twin-engine plane loses an engine on liftoff.  

I am sure a lot of the passengers assumed that death was imminent – it’s what I would have thought. That they didn’t panic and lose control is a testament to their courage.  

Certainly the crew and pilot’s handling of the emergency contributed to the passengers’ composed reaction to their ordeal. I am fairly sure that if the airhostesses had screamed hysterically while the pilot panicked, the atmosphere on that plane would have been very different. 

As it was, the passengers’ terrifying experience involved a loud noise being audible on take-off followed by the plane suddenly veering sideways. Then when pilot Trevor Arnold accelerated his remaining engine to ensure a successful take-off, a “massive shudder shook the plane as the two-ton engine…tore clean off the wing” (Death Defying, Saturday Star, 10 November 2007).  

All of this would have left me immobilised in a state of frozen terror and no doubt that is what happened to most of the passengers. However their ordeal continued for a further half-an-hour as the plane took off, climbed to a safe height, circled over False Bay and dumped its fuel, before landing again. Ample time for the travelers to emerge from their shock and move into a state of mass hysteria.  

But by all accounts though, the passengers remained remarkably calm. They listened to the crew and followed instructions on how to handle an emergency landing. Quite amazing in a country where many of us break by-laws with impunity – talking on cellphones while driving, sailing through red robots and flaunting authority whenever it suits us. 

So while the Nationwide Airlines’ crew gets an A plus for their handling of this dangerous event, the passengers deserve gold medals for bravely flying in the face of death.  

Related links
Plane loses engine during takeoff 
“They took off and left the engine behind”
Nationwide Boeing engine ‘sucked in object’
Engine falls off CT plane
Aircraft engine falls in flight 

Photo credit
Nationwide Airlines – www.flynationwide.co.za

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