Archive for the ‘surveyors’ Category

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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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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Land surveyors are up in arms about a notice issued by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform in November last year which called for comments on the Draft Regulations for the Planning Profession Act (Act No. 36 of 2002). Land surveyors’ objections to the draft regulations are focused mainly on the exclusive reservation of work for professional and technical planners and the requirement for existing land surveying professionals to obtain certification from the South African Council for Planners (SACPLAN) to undertake specified planning work.

The proposals in the draft regulations have stirred outrage in the land surveying profession which has traditionally carried out work that, once the bill is enacted, will be reserved exclusively for town planners. Many land surveyors see the draft regulations as impacting on their right to practice as land surveyors. They strongly object to the proposed restriction of current land surveyors, and the prevention of future land surveyors, from undertaking functions that have been part of their normal professional duties for decades.

Over the last hundred years or so, surveyors across South Africa have advised and assisted property owners with the preparation and submission of applications for a wide range of planning work related to land and development rights on land. These include building line departures, special consents, removal of restrictions, permission to subdivide or consolidate, as well as servitudes and rezonings. For as long as land surveying has been recognised as a profession, it has been commonly accepted that these tasks are a part of a professional land surveyor’s duties. In addition, land surveyors have also been instrumental in creating the large volume of legislation controlling land use and development, as well as the submission and administration of applications.

The draft regulations also seek to remove the individual land owner’s right to make their applications on their own behalf. Many land surveyors assist land owners, who are unable to afford the full professional services of town planners and land surveyors, with their individual applications for consent. The draft regulations are seen as depriving land owners of their fundamental right to deal with their own land development issues and forcing them to make use of town planners when it is not necessary. This is viewed as being restrictive to development, particularly in rural areas where people are not able to afford the services of town planning professionals let alone find one in their area. In addition, if planners are to be involved in minor subdivision, rezoning, relaxations and so on, the cost to the owner or client will make it uneconomic to proceed, leading to even more unsolved land problems.

Property development is one of the main drivers of growth in South Africa, and housing delivery and rural development have long been identified by government as priority projects. How will the proposed work regulations assist government in meeting its targets in these areas when the draft regulations will disqualify many skilled professionals from doing the work required to drive property development and housing delivery?

The draft regulations provide no reasons as to why work reservation for the planning profession is necessary. In the absence of these reasons, many land surveyors are of the opinion that the motivation behind the draft regulations is jobs for planners, which they believe to be inherently anti-competitive.

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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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Reading through the submissions at the recent parliamentary public hearings into the Geomatics Profession Bill, it was evident that GISSA, SAGI, IMSSA, and PLATO had common concerns about the somewhat indifferent consultation process, the inadequate defining of the geomatics profession, and the representivity of the new geomatics council.

Most parties making submissions expressed their frustration with the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) saying that comments submitted on previous occasions were not acknowledged, no feedback was provided and there was no evidence of the comments having been incorporated into the Bill. Even the parliamentary committee members expressed concern at the apparent lack of consultation. In addition, common complaints were that calls for comments were made over holiday periods with short time periods allocated for responses.

Effective consultation is a two-way process, and it is concerning that insufficient attention has been paid to the consultation process. The lack of consultation is evidenced by the fact that the definition of the geomatics profession is inadequate. Several organisations expressed concern at the over emphasis of land surveying at the expense of other disciplines. Understandably, GISSA expressed concerns about the definition of “geomatics practitioners” being biased towards surveying practitioners, while IMSSA and SAGI expressed concerns about the Bill failing to adequately describe the other geomatics disciplines such as mine surveyors and engineering surveyors.

Land surveyors are just one element of the equation making up the geomatics profession and it is very concerning to see that despite there being several periods where comments have been invited, the Geomatics Profession Bill has still not adequately dealt with the matter of defining the various disciplines within the geomatics profession.

Understandably, the inadequate definition of the geomatics profession has in turn led to concerns regarding the make-up of the new geomatics council. Complaints were made about the disproportionate representation of professional land surveyors on the council and several parties requested that the new council needs to be representative of the different disciplines making up the profession.

What is wrong with the suggestion that the recognised voluntary associations be allowed to nominate representatives to the new geomatics council? Who better to understand the challenges being faced by the various disciplines, than the very geomatics professionals involved in those disciplines.

Pleasing everyone who has provided commentary on the Geomatics Profession Bill is obviously not going to be possible. At the very least, however, it is important to address the issues of being truly consultative, drawing up an inclusive definition of geomatics professionals, and ensuring that the new council is representative of the various disciplines that it will be representing.

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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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During the course of this year, it has been interesting to hear people debating the need to keep the geospatial professions relevant and to heighten their perceived value to a range of key players in the private and government sectors.

It is increasingly clear that surveyors’ specialised and hard-earned measurement skills are under threat as surveying  tools become simultaneously easier to use and increasingly accurate. At the recent Institute of Mine Surveyors of South Africa Conference, mine surveyors were advised to counter this trend towards “push-button” technology by carving out a special role for themselves as geodata managers and to identify how they can use their specialised surveying skills to contribute to their organisations’ productivity, safety and efficiency. Land surveyors have also been cautioned against allowing themselves to be marginalised. Karl van Rensburg has encouraged land surveyors to counter this trend by providing a more complete service to their clients and by getting more involved in pre- and post-survey activities (see September, October and Nov/Dec issues of PositionIT).

Technology waits for no man, and surveyors need to look towards this future, identify the business opportunities therein, and grasp them with both hands. Not to be left out in the cold, people working in the GIS field also need to be looking to the future and the implications of technological advances in their sphere of specialisation. They too need to identify ways to offer more value to their organisations and/or clients. As geospatial software and equipment becomes increasingly user-friendly, people who are able to analyse geospatial data and use it for the benefit of their organisations and/or clients, are the ones who will have the most relevance in the workplace of the future.

GIS practitioners need to assess their skills and ask themselves whether there is going to be a need for their skills in the future work place.  Are they simply going to be users of software and equipment or are they going to be the experts who know how to use geospatial data to build our economy and society? Clearly there is a lot at stake and participants in the geospatial sector, whether surveyors or GIS practitioners, need to be paying serious attention to their individual identity as professionals and the status of their profession as a whole.

Following this line of thinking, I would like to encourage people to actively participate in PLATO’s CPD programme. I realise that many people working in the geospatial sector are rattled by the new programme and its requirements. However, a  closer look at the rules will reveal that the conditions are not too onerous. True the need to comply with the CPD programme has come at a time when many people are feeling overcommitted and financially constrained, however, with some strategic planning one should be able to meet the requirements of the programme, while improving one’s skills, keeping up-to-date with new technologies, networking with colleagues and identifying new business or job opportunities.

People who are not registered with PLATO should not let this hold them back from participating in the various CPD-approved activities. After all participation in industry platforms and associations is an investment in yourself.


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