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Land reform in South Africa is a complex matter and efforts to ensure sustainable land distribution and authenticated land restitution need to be supported. More funding, increased resources and efficient management of the land reform process will go a long way towards speeding up the land claims and redistribution processes as well as preventing corruption and maladministration. However, what is really needed is a fundamental overhaul of government land reform policy.

The policy needs to be imbued with a fuller, more comprehensive understanding of the historical processes of pre-colonial and colonial black South African societies which belie the notion of unified black peasant communities longing for a return to a pastoral way of life. In addition, policy makers need to understand that society is not static, and that trends such as increased urbanisation need to be taken into account.

Over the last 100 years the world has undergone a radical transformation. Economies have industrialised, and technological developments have created new employment opportunities while simultaneously rendering others obsolete.  South Africa’s poor, both rural and urban, have not been isolated from these developments, and would like to participate in the capitalist economy and have the opportunity to reap some of its benefits.

In an attempt to deal with the failures or unintended consequences of land reform, government has shifted and reworked land reform policy over the years in an effort to deal with matters of land restitution and distribution. Sometimes these policy shifts have worked but more often than not, they haven’t. Instead they have had unintended consequences or have resulted in land programmes becoming bogged down by laborious and inefficient systems.

Persistent efforts in recent years to bestow increasing powers on traditional leaders, does not augur well for attempts to get the land reform programme refocused on poor, black South Africans. These efforts provide opportunities for corrupt chiefs to develop patronage networks around communal tenure systems that will work to their own benefit, instead of the rural poor. The declaration of the Communal Land Rights Act of 2004 as unconstitutional in 2010 and provincial resistance in 2008 and 2011 to the Traditional Courts Bill, which subsequently lapsed in 2014, have helped to hamper these efforts, but for how long.

The reworked Traditional Courts Bill is due to be tabled in parliament in 2017, and there is still a need to be cautious about a policy programme which seeks to entrench traditional leaders’ authority over the rural population and communal land. Opportunists are on the prowl aiming to enrich themselves via authority over communal land restitution claims and control over mineral rights. Politicians too are seeking to entrench mechanisms that will protect traditional electoral bases.  It is vital that decisions are ultimately made that will enable growth and development for the benefit of the majority.

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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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With looming local government elections and the country in an uproar over the current political leadership, it is immensely concerning to find the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) found wanting by the Public Protector, the Constitutional Court and the Electoral Court.

While questions are being asked about the integrity of this once proud piece of our democratic infrastructure, the geospatial community needs to focus its attention on the questions raised by the Constitutional Court and the Electoral Court with regard to the Tlokwe by-elections and the need for voters’ addresses to be provided on the voters’ role.

The Constitutional Court of South Africa in its ruling on 30 November 2015 regarding the case Kham and Others v Electoral Commission and Another, stated “that when registering a voter to vote in a particular voting district after the date of this order the Electoral Commission is obliged to obtain sufficient particularity of the voter’s address to enable it to ensure that the voter is at the time of registration ordinarily resident in that voting district” and it declared “that in all future municipal elections or by-elections the Electoral Commission is obliged in terms of section 16(3) of the Electoral Act 73 of 1998 to provide all candidates in municipal elections, on the date on which they are certified, with a copy of the segment of the national voters’ roll to be used in that ward in that election including the addresses of all voters, where these addresses are available.”

The IEC issued a statement on 29 February 2016 in response to the Electoral Court’s decision to postpone the Tlokwe by-election stating that it would appeal the ruling, and that it would also “embark on a variety of initiatives to update the voters’ roll with as many addresses for voters as possible ahead of the upcoming by-elections and this year’s Municipal Elections”.

Now people working with addresses in South Africa know all too well the difficulties of providing addresses for informal settlements and rural areas. To map and address every informal settlement in time for the upcoming elections is an impossibility and yet not providing an addressing solution puts our electoral process at risk as some political parties will be able take advantage of the voter registration process to ensure a win and other political parties will be able question the validity of the election results and hold the country and our democracy to ransom.

The local government elections have to be held by latest 16 August 2016, a mere four months away. One of the possible alternatives that the IEC needs to be looking at is mapcodes – a worldwide encoding system that allows any location on the surface of the earth to be represented by a short easily recognisable and memorable code. While the matter of tying the voter to the address is still an issue, a solution such as mapcodes (which is free) can deal with the matter of the actual location of the voter’s place of residence.

The geospatial community needs to be applying its thinking to this problem and needs to assist in providing a palatable solution to this dilemma. Informal settlements are not going to be disappearing soon and their residents have a right to an address and a right to vote. This is a prime opportunity for the leadership of the geospatial industry to step into the spotlight and provide some much needed guidance on matters of addressing.

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The Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, Gugile Nkwinti, formally announced the re-opening of the land claims process on 1 July 2014. This followed the enacting of the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Act, 2014 which extended the date for lodgement of land claims for those who did not claim by the initial deadline of 31 December 1998, to 30 June 2019.

The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) is not certain how much funding it will need to process the new claims as this will be determined by the number of claims lodged as well as the extent of the claims. However, a Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) conducted by the department estimated that 397 000 valid claims will be lodged and that it will cost between R129-billion to R179-billion, depending on the options selected by claimants and whether those claims are settled within 15 years. This means that the department will need an additional allocation of R8,6-billion to R11,9-billion per year for the next 15 years to settle the new claims.

But where is this money to come from? All eyes will be on the new Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene to see whether the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement will reveal any additional funding for the DRDLR to finance the claims arising from the re-opening of the land restitution process.

In a statement issued at the re-opening announcement, Minister Nkwinti revealed that 14 lodgement offices and sites across the country have been opened in all nine provinces, and that “these sites have been equipped with advanced technology to ensure the speedy and accurate capture of relevant information” and that “every effort will be made to ensure the process from the submission of a claim to the time it is settled is a smooth one”.

That all sounds simple enough, but the reality is far more complex. Processing a land claim is a complicated affair and needs to be geospatially managed right from the get go. When making a land claim it is vital to get an accurate description of the location of the land.  Geospatial tools that can assist in the identification and delineation of claimed land include  GPS-enabled devices, historical topographical maps and the use of a geospatially enabled land claims lodgement system. Using these tools will go a long way towards bringing down the cost of the land claims process and speeding up the finalisation rate. A geospatially enabled land claims lodgement system will also allow for the efficient management of the land claims process and prevent opportunitistic individuals from manipulating the land restitution process for their own benefit.

Further complications when dealing with land claims is that very often the cadastral layout does not resemble the reality of what is on the ground. And what about land claims that don’t coincide with cadastral properties? Land that is located on a portion of a current cadastral property? Land claims that transverse current and historical cadastral boundaries? Never mind the various categories of land rights including unregistered rights such as share cropping and so on.

Another complication is the 8471 claims lodged before the 1998 cut off period that have not yet been settled or resolved, and which have been now been prioritised for settlement. The current system apparently uses surname as a unique identifier, which could make it difficult for the Land Claims Commission to differentiate between “old” land claims and “new” land claims.

Hopefully Minister Nkwinti has ensured that the Land Claims Commission will be drawing on the skills of geomatics professionals from within the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform to strive for efficient geospatial management of the land claims process. If he is serious about an effective land restitution process, he will be making sure that this is indeed the case.

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After a heated debate in parliament on 25 February 2014, the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill [B35 – 2013] (s76) was approved by the National Assembly and referred for concurrence to the Select Committee on Land and Environmental Affairs of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP). The committee is scheduled to hold a final mandates meeting on the Bill on 25 March 2014, and the NCOP then winds up its first term on 28 March 2014. Based on this information it appears unlikely that the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill will be finalised before 13 March when parliament goes into recess until after the elections.

The Bill, which amends the Restitution of Land Rights Act (1994), proposes to re-open the date for lodging claims for restitution for a five-year period until 31 December 2018. It aims to promote the effective implementation of the Act and provides for the simplification of the appointment process for judges to the Land Claims Court. It also prescribes new offences should a person unlawfully prevent a claimant from gaining his or her rights from this Act or should someone lodge a claim with the intention of defrauding the state.

Public consultations on the Bill have been held across the country since November 2013 to allow interested persons and stakeholders to make comments and inputs on the reopening of the land claims process that closed in December 1998. The varied range of interested parties that made submissions to the Rural Development and Land Reform parliamentary committee is testimony to the emotions that the land issue raises in the hearts of South Africans. In the run-up to the elections, the ANC-led government has been accused by its political opponents of using the Bill to drum up support for the ANC at the polls.

Whether the Bill is enacted before or after the elections is somewhat moot though. Budget is the biggest issue in the land claims process, and the more important question is who is going to foot the bill.

Since the inception of the restitution programme, the DRDLR has settled a total of 77 334 claims at a total cost of R16-billion, averaging R206 894 per claim. Of these claims, 71 292 were for financial compensation worth R6-billion.The Regulatory Impact Assessment prepared by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) in July 2013 estimates that an additional 397 000 valid claims will be lodged as a result of the re-opening of the claims process and that it will cost R129- to R179-billion depending on the settlement option selected by claimants if these claims are settled within 15 years.

DRDLR representatives assured the parliamentary committee in February that National Treasury was consulted prior to referral of the Bill to parliament, and that funding would be made available. However, Pravin Gordhan has only allocated R8,7-billion for land restitution claims in his 2014 budget.

This allocation is a mere drop in the ocean when measured against the projected costs of R129- to R179-billion to deal with the new claims that are expected to be lodged. There is also not going to be much of the R8,7-billion to spread around when taking into account the R1,1-billion the DRDLR paid out for the acquisition of the 13 184 hectare Mala Mala Game Reserve late last year.

So, where is the money going to come from?

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As those of us working in the geospatial sector are aware, geomatics is key to planning, infrastructure development and service delivery in virtually every sector of the economy. With this being the case, it makes sense then that geospatial data, services and tools are essential for achieving the goals of the National Development Plan (NDP) or in case you are an NDP non-believer, good old national development planning.

While the NDP has many worthy goals, it is disconcerting to see that instead of focusing on the NDP objectives that have broad support across our society and pursuing those objectives vigourously, the entire NDP has become part of a political game that has more to do with election alliances than changing people’s lives on the ground. The events at Marikana, service delivery protests, the attacks on Somali shopkeepers, the turf battles between trade unions are all symptoms of a discontented society and a discontented people. And this is only going to get worse.

National development planning is needed as a matter of urgency. We need houses to be constructed, roads to be fixed, schools to have school books and food on people’s tables. Why wait for the turmoil and trouble of an African Spring, when we can take control of our destiny and work on making South Africa a better place for all?

To get our national development planning on track, South Africa urgently needs to get its spatial data infrastructure (SDI) up and running. SDIs justify their development costs by generating greater economic benefit for the countries that build them and the developed world has taken note of this. Countries in the developed world are making increasing use of SDIs while we here in South Africa seem to be getting nowhere despite the numerous SDI workshops and meetings that have been held over the last decade or so.

A call was recently issued for suitable candidates to be nominated to become part of South Africa’s Committee for Spatial Information (CSI). It is hoped that government departments are putting a great deal of thought into who should be on this committee. The CSI needs members who have both the ability and the authority to drive the development of South Africa’s spatial data infrastructure (SASDI).

Building an SDI is a complex process, and perhaps one of the areas where South Africa has failed is in acquiring buy-in from top level government leaders. While we urgently need an interoperable, accessible SDI containing updated geo-reference data from a variety of sources, we also desperately need the support of a selection of high profile public and private sector representatives who can help to spread the message that an SDI is essential for improving efficiency, increasing productivity, reducing risk and improving decision making processes for national development planning.

South Africa’s SDI initiative needs strong dynamic leaders who understand what an SDI is capable of doing for the country. It needs leadership that understands the necessity of promoting the concept of an SDI to all levels of government. It needs crusaders who can help to get South Africa on track with its national development planning.

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Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s colourful and controversial leader has died. His 14 years in power in which he championed the poor and fought to close the gap between the poor and the rich, saw him win four presidential elections, become the leader of Latin America’s left-wing bloc, and a major world figure.

While many may have laughed at his populist antics there is no denying the fact that he was very popular in his own country and around the world. He tuned into the spirit of the Arab Spring which has seen the poor of the world ready to rise up and overthrow national authorities. While the West may smugly pose democratic governance as the answer, they shouldn’t think themselves immune.

All over the world, the poor have had enough. When times are good they pay the price and when times are bad they pay the price. Western bankers have effectively brought the international economy to its knees and while they and their respective governments get to spend their way out of trouble, it is the poor worldwide who have had to tighten their belts and make do with less and less.

In South Africa we are seeing a rise in service delivery protests especially in areas scheduled for visits by political big wigs. Our poor have learnt the hard way. Those who throw the most stones get attention, while those opting for civilised appeals through governmental and non-governmental channels are ignored. What does this say about our South African democracy?

Recently Naren Bhojaram, President of the Consulting Engineers of South Africa (CESA), warned that corruption is paralysing South Africa and eating away at the moral fibre of our society. He said that all South Africans were collectively responsible for this situation. He added though that President Zuma could not be blamed for the corruption in South Africa, because his job is to create a platform for business to operate in an ethical, responsible way and for him and his government to lead in an ethical and responsible way.

While I agree that we are all collectively responsible for the situation in South Africa and that President Zuma has a duty to create a suitable business platform, I do not subscribe to the view that President Zuma cannot be blamed for the corruption. While President Zuma himself is not personally responsible for the  ineptitude and gross malfeasance that make the headlines, he is our leader and he needs to take a more decisive stand against the looters in our society who are doing their best to bring South Africa to its knees for their own selfish ends.

As the 2014 elections creep ever closer, President Zuma and his colleagues need to honestly assess the legacy they want to leave behind. The poor are getting angrier, and they have nothing left to lose. South Africans need to start working together to rebuild a sense of responsibility and accountability for our acts as individuals and as representatives of government, businesses and other organisations.

In addition, those of us working in the surveying, geomatics, remote sensing and GIS sectors understand the power of the tools and technology at our disposal. We need to be using them as weapons in the fight for the progress and economic development of all South Africans.

 

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