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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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A significant milestone has been reached by the United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM) following the adoption of a draft resolution by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) entitled “Strengthening institutional arrangements on geospatial information management”. The move is an acknowledgement of the UN-GGIM’s efforts over the last five years to co-ordinate and facilitate geospatial information management at an international level.

The adoption of the resolution followed a consultative review of the work and operations of the UN-GGIM and took place prior to the sixth session of the UN-GGIM which was held at the United Nations headquarters in New York from 1 to 5 August 2016.

The resolution acknowledges that the Committee of Experts is well placed to continue to contribute to the work of the United Nations, especially in the context of assisting member states to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action (SAMOA) Pathway.

During his opening remarks, Wu Hongbo the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, stated that the resolution represented a milestone for the Committee of Experts, that it would streamline the work of the subsidiary bodies of the council in the field of geospatial information management, and strengthen and broaden its mandate as the relevant body to report to the council on all matters relating to geography, geospatial information and related topics.

He further stated that the UN-GGIM has a valuable role to play in support of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which aims to guide the world’s collective social, economic and environmental transformation over the next 15 years. Hongbo pointed out that the resulting new data needs are unprecedented and that they will require co-ordinated efforts at global, regional and national levels. He emphasised that “efforts to increase the availability of high-quality, timely and reliable data, disaggregated by a range of metrics, including geographic location, will be critical in order to track progress, make informed decisions and to ensure no one is left behind.”

The adoption of the draft resolution on strengthening institutional arrangements on geospatial information management, means that ECOSOC has agreed to broaden and strengthen the mandate of the Committee of Experts and to confirm the inclusion of the annual session of the committee within the regular United Nations calendar of conferences and meetings. Member states will also be encouraged to provide voluntary contributions, and to ask the Secretary-General to mobilise additional resources to support the activities of the UN-GGIM.

This is good news for all who work with geospatial information. The resolution gives geospatial data and its management a more prominent role on a global stage, and will ultimately assist South African initiatives, such as our own Committee for Spatial Information, to acquire the status and authority required in order to operate successfully.

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Johannesburg Mayor Parks Tau recently pointed out that South African society has a tendency to criminalise the poor. And he is right. Entrepreneurs trying to make a living by selling goods on the side of the road are prosecuted, and people without basic services such as electricity are penalised for connecting themselves illegally. There are many ways in which poor South Africans are given a raw deal, and one of these is the transport facilities available to them, namely the mini-bus taxi industry.

Mini-bus taxis are the transport mode of choice for the majority of South Africans, they offer flexibility and a price that suits the needs of their customers. They also go when and where their customers need them. However, the safety of the service provided is, in the majority of cases, shocking and the dangerous driving tactics due to inter-driver competition are simply staggering. Traffic infringements such as driving on pavements and driving on the wrong side of the road into oncoming traffic are an all too common feature of the South African rush hour.

One of these days a class action law suit will be taken against the Department of Transport and the taxi federations for allowing the taxi industry to defy the rules of the road, and for enabling a culture of general disregard for the traffic regulations to take root amongst the driving public. This is no idle day dream. Laws such as the Consumer Protection Act have opened the way for class actions to take place in South Africa as evidenced by the judicial go-ahead given to the silicosis class action suit against the gold mining industry.

But why wait for a class action law suit? Steps can be taken now to professionalise the mini-bus taxi industry and make it accountable for its actions for the sake of taxi passengers and other road users.

Rectifying this situation requires the business model for the taxi industry to change. A priority should be that taxi-drivers receive a set wage instead of their income being based on the number of passengers they carry a day. Fleet management and vehicle tracking systems should also be installed in all taxis. These systems can be used for the benefit of taxi owners to monitor their drivers’ behaviour, to optimise their vehicles’ logistics and to manage the maintenance of their vehicles. The Department of Transport in turn can fulfil their mandate to the public and ensure that licences are only made available to taxi operators making use of fleet management and vehicle tracking systems. Initially the taxi owners’ profit will take a hit, but a safer, well-regulated taxi industry will attract more customers. Just look at the popularity of Uber.

Going geospatial is a win-win situation for all parties: the mini-bus taxi industry, the Department of Transport and above all the general public. It will be cheaper all round too, to invest time and money into upgrading the mini-bus taxi industry instead of upgrading existing roads and expanding the road network. However, taking the first step requires the powers-that-be to decide that South Africa’s poor are worthy of having safe public transport.

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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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2016 is shaping up to be a very tough year. There’s no water, there’s no money, jobs are dwindling, local elections are looming, and political infighting is intensifying. This year we will all be paying the price for inadequate planning, and for allowing corruption and inefficiencies to take root.

The sooner we all acknowledge that it’s time to stop passing the buck, time to stop turning a blind eye, the better. South Africa needs all hands on deck, and in particular, it needs its geographic information specialists to come to the rescue.

The gloomy economic scenario facing South Africa needs to be fought head on with systems that will enable optimisation of efficiencies for asset and resource management, revenue protection, budget expenditure, monitoring and logistics, utility maintenance and so on. Geospatial personnel, geodata infrastructure and geo-tools hold the key to enabling this efficiency optimisation.

In previous boom times, decision makers weren’t too concerned about efficiencies as there was enough fat in their budgets to obscure mismanagement and/or wasteful expenditure. In these trying times though, budgets are fat-free. Decision makers wanting to keep their jobs need to identify how to extract maximum value from limited budgets to ensure that their business units fulfill their mandated responsibilities.

It is clear that the Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan, intends fulfilling his mandated responsibility – the prudent fiscal management of South Africa. Just like his courageous predecessor, Nhlanhla Nene, Gordhan has stood up against the monetary waywardness at South African Airways and, unlike Nene, he hasn’t been fired. Running on with Nene’s baton, Gordhan is continuing the race for financial prudence and we can expect a very tight budget for 2016.

Bearing this in mind, geospatial practitioners across all sectors, whether working with minerals, energy, water, education, transport, health, local government, environmental affairs, social services etc., need to understand the business value of their work. If they don’t understand the financial implications of their work, they need to make it their responsibility to ascribe a value to their efforts. In addition, geospatial specialists need to communicate this business value effectively to the executive management structures of the organisation they work for.

Geospatial practitioners are experts in geospatial matters but it is imperative that they understand the money principle; that when money talks, people listen, and that when Pravin is on the warpath, people’s listening improves dramatically.

There is also strength in numbers, and geomatics colleagues from across government departments need to collaborate, to join forces, and communicate with the finance minister. They need to use policy maps and geo-visualisation tools to show how geospatial personnel, geospatial tools and geospatial technologies are being used and how they can be better utilised to ensure efficient financial management of our country and its resources on behalf of all its people.

In order to weather the storms of 2016 and beyond, all members of the South African geomatics community need to make a concerted effort to get decision-makers in their respective organisations on to the geospatial highway as soon as possible.

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Depressed commodity prices, the continuing economic downturn and pervasive illegal mining activities, have been hitting South Africa’s mining sector hard. Cost cutting plans, retrenchments and even mine closures are the order of the day.

While stimulating commodity prices and resuscitating the global economy are beyond the South African mining industry’s scope, the sector has no choice but to find a way to deal with illegal mining activities that are carried out without regard to issues of health, safety, and human rights.

Previously illegal mining activities were limited to abandoned mining operations where lax closure controls had enabled informal mining entrepreneurs to eke out a living re-mining old workings. Increasingly illegal mining is now taking place at operational mines with gangs violently fighting back against mine owners attempts to reclaim their legal operations.

Gangs operated by sophisticated syndicates have also reportedly taken to kidnapping informal mine workers underground, holding them captive for weeks at a time and forcing them to work for free. This is slave labour.  It would not be permitted above ground, so why is it allowed to take place below ground?

Combating illegal mining activities head-on is clearly not working as syndicates continue to extend their reach and to professionalise their activities in order to maximise their profits.  In addition, the next round of mine worker retrenchments is only likely to boost the ranks of illegal mining entrepreneurs making a living off South Africa’s mines. If something is not done to transform the current mining sector model, illegal mining will be the final death knell for South Africa’s ailing mining sector.

The formal mining industry needs to have a radical rethink about its current operating structures and find a way to incorporate different levels of mining entrepreneurs within their organisations. Legal opportunities for informal mining entrepreneurs that do not compete with formal mining activities need to be identified and built into the larger formal mining framework. These informal mining entrepreneurs could be supported by the larger mining entity while at the same time acting as a buffer against the spread of illegal mining syndicates that are already prepared to do battle to continue their illegal mining operations.

At present the pattern of illegal mining that is being allowed to persist is creating new chains of corruption that will be difficult to eradicate. These include the recruitment of legal miners to provide support to illegal mining operations by smuggling food and supplies underground or by renting out their access cards, policemen who lie in wait to grab the ill-gotten gains of informal mining entrepreneurs as they emerge into the light from their weeks spent working underground, and mine security officials who are bribed to turn a blind eye to illegal mining activities.

The mining sector needs to fight fire with fire. This requires being innovative in identifying solutions that will empower informal mining entrepreneurs and make them feel that they have a stake in legal mining operations. It won’t be easy, and will require co-operation from the mining companies, trade unions and government, all of whom have competing agendas. However, if compromises aren’t made and solutions identified, South Africa’s mining sector will find itself hijacked.

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