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Posts Tagged ‘Clare van Zwieten’

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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During the 2015 Esri Africa User Conference in Cape Town, Esri President Jack Dangermond shared his views on the future of geographic information systems (GIS), the secret of his success, trends in urban GIS, his legacy, and the co-dependency between technology and the geographic information (GI) science profession.

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Clare van Zwieten and Jack Dangermond

What is the secret of your ongoing success with Esri over the years?

I have no unique talent. I listen to my users and I do what they need and want. It’s one of my philosophies. I am very conservative financially so we don’t spend a lot of money on exotic things. We spend money on things that actually matter. We are privately held, and we don’t borrow money. We work hard, we have strong values around the area of software engineering, and we also support our users in building tools that really work. Our success is not due to marketing or sales talent or business acumen, it’s because we have built and continue to build a platform, a system that works for our customers.

 

Where do you see GIS in ten years’ time?

I’ve been involved in this business for 50 years. The first stage was with basic researchers and we were running on mainframe computers. This was just a few dozen people on the planet. People were curious about the idea of automating maps and automating geographic data. The second stage really happened largely in the 70s which was largely rooted in prototype application work – people would do projects with automated mapping tools but everything was project focused. That grew to a few hundred people on the planet. When a product came into play – ArcInfo was the first such product – it moved from a few hundred people to thousands. Agencies began acquiring this technology and the world changed from research or project-based to system-based, but the systems were largely departmental systems.

In the 90s with the introduction of PCs, which replaced largely workstation GIS, we saw GIS applications in the form of projects become more extensive – and we moved from some thousands of people to tens of thousands of users, and that made a significant footprint on the world.

In the late 90s the technology shifted to the client-server model and in that environment people began to think about connecting different departmental applications into enterprise systems but it didn’t quite work out. Although the market continued to grow and people would take enterprise approaches, we learned that it was hard to put everything into one central server. The constraints were technological and human, and it was hard to get different organisations to agree to share their data into an integrated environment.

With advancements in server technology, we began to learn how to share information on the web and this happened both inside of agencies and also with consumer mapping technology like Google or Bing. The world began to realise the power of geospatial visualisation through simple-to-use consumer technology.

What is occurring now is the web GIS pattern which is a new pattern. It’s not mainframe GIS, it’s not minicomputer GIS, it’s not workstation GIS, it’s not desktop GIS, it’s not server GIS, it’s a web GIS. And a web GIS is a kind of a system of systems. It involves the ability to federate systems of record like server-based systems or systems of exploitation like desktop systems. It allows those kinds of systems to be integrated in a new pattern.

The web GIS pattern is implementable in a country or in an agency. It’s also interesting because we can implement it for the whole world at the same time. Our approach being a software company is we provide basic tools that enable other people to do real work. Inside of cities or local governments or businesses, or mining companies, people are taking their different departmental datasets and using web GIS to bring them together through a portal that supports apps for accessing dynamically integrated data coming off the web.

That’s a new pattern from putting everything into a single database environment because it allows federated data to be managed independently but dynamically brought together using web services. This is not a simple technology to bring together. It’s not a simple concept, but it’s starting to work. It can also be done for national government.

So getting back to your question, what’s going to happen in the next ten years? I think this will evolve to involve not simply millions of users, but billions. We will see the opening up and providing of geo-services to all of society. This is already happening through applications like Story Maps, where agencies are publishing their information as stories for normal citizen people and policy people to understand what is going on. It’s creating a new level of understanding. I like to call that a kind of geo-enlightenment and that’s happening certainly in the agencies, but it is also beginning to happen with the public.

Do you see this happening mostly in North America and Europe? Or is it happening everywhere?

I think it’s happening everywhere. Society is going to become more geo-enlightened as they do that. People will understand the consequences of their actions in a new way, and there will be a new geo-consciousness about what’s occurring on the planet.

I have a good friend Richard Saul Wurman who started the Ted Talks many, many years ago. He has a favourite phase he uses, “understanding precedes action”. It’s very basic to human beings. He says, “Jack what you are in, is the business of understanding, and geospatial is an understanding language.” I like to describe my users as people who are working towards creating a better understanding of the planet and while we do that it in various sectors, the reality is that in concert GI, or GIS professionals, are creating understanding which I think will become essential infrastructure for the evolution of the planet.

And that’s what’s going to happen over the next ten years. If we have a hope of surviving the challenges that we are facing, geospatial professionals will provide the infrastructure that will change that. At least that’s my aspiration.

During his presentation Michael Goodchild spoke about the issue of GI being a science as opposed to being just a tool. Where do you stand on this debate?

Is GIS a technology or is it a profession or is it a science? Basically GIS is a bunch of tools that have been embraced by many different professions such as healthcare, engineering, planning… These professions have taken the basic set of tools and configured it to support different sorts of workflows. Surveyors certainly are empowered by GIS as a way to do their surveying practice, so are planners, so are foresters, so are healthcare people. There is also a co-dependence between technology and professions, as technology advances there are new methods for doing things professionally. Things are improved, sometimes automated, sometimes made obsolete. Old ways of thinking, old ways of doing things can be replaced with new ways of doing things because of technical advances. I would say that this debate about whether it is a technology or a profession is up to the observer. Different people see it in different ways, and I don’t want to get into a battle about that, because it’s both.

We sometimes struggle with getting decision makers to see the value of GIS solutions. Do you get involved in trying to get decision makers to buy into GIS?

I am often asked to speak to senior executives in organisations. At our normal user conferences in California we have an executive track which gets senior executives to see the context of why GIS is so very important in their organisations. It happens that when senior executives get the value of GIS they are the ones who drive it, rather than the technical people pushing it. In 2014, UPS, a large package delivery organisation, saved about US$400-million dollars by using GIS to automate their routing of trucks and deliveries. Business value… that’s what speaks to executives.

Getting politicians to see the value of GIS can be problematic. Is that something you have noticed around the world?

What is occurring in GIS right now is that there is a growing demand for policy maps. These are maps that speak to policy people with information products that help them. One of the US presidential candidates today is Martin O’Malley. He used GIS when he was a mayor to better manage his city. He made maps of where the crime was and then put the cops where the crime was. When he became Governor of Maryland, he mapped where there were educational deficiencies in schools and he poured the money where schools were really in need of improving. He used GIS as an instrument for public policy but he had a creative team of GIS specialists who understood how to make maps that really spoke to politicians.

President Obama also made maps for stimulus funding early in his administration. He not only looked at where the needs were for putting money, but he also spent money in those locations of greatest need. Obama uses GIS for everything from national security to directing resources, perhaps not as much as he should in my opinion, but he understands its value.

Have you noticed similarities between metropolitan municipalities around the world?

Yes. In the 70s I was challenged with figuring out what was wanted and needed in different cities for GIS. I started with Los Angeles and made a huge discovery that there are only 33 or 34 basic geographic workflows and databases that cities use. Later looking at San Francisco, Toronto, Istanbul, Jakarta, and Bagdad… we found that these thirty-some basic functions were the same in every city around the world.

Later in surveys we found that all cities function exactly the same way. They call them different names, they organise them differently under different departments, but there is a generic set of geographic functions and geographic datasets. We used to call it the urban data model that all cities are required to do: picking up garbage, delivering things, addressing, cadastral data management, engineering, pipes, environmental reviews, zoning, planning etc.

In those early days we examined the relationship between those functions and the different datasets that were required to build an urban SDI. And also what software tools were necessary to automate those functions and make the right kind of maps. Those early research projects led to the development of ArcGIS. And that’s fundamentally how urban GIS came into being.

What are the big drivers for urban GIS?

There are four or five big drivers where the benefits are happening in urban GIS, and actually in GIS in general.

Number one, GIS tends to drive efficiency, it makes things cheaper or faster… and what mayor doesn’t want their city to be more efficient.

The second big benefit value is in the area of communication, and maps and integrated GIS just help better communicate the situation. Cities that adopt and embrace GIS tend to communicate more effectively, not only between their departments but also with their public, their constituencies.

The third big area is that GIS benefits cities by increasing the quality of decisions. If you look at all the different layers of geographic data when you are making a decision, it improves decision making.

A fourth area is transparency and accountability. Those cities that really implement it and do it well, tend to be more transparent and connected with their citizens.

The last one is a little more abstract. Some people describe it as science benefits. Or in the vernacular today, it’s data-driven cities, or data-driven government. Certainly GIS’s underpinnings lead to data-driven operations and data-driven decision making because of the relationships between the different agencies in the city that are sharing and co-operating with their information.

How is work progressing on the transitioning of users from Google Earth Enterprise to Esri? Has there been a lot of take up?

Yes, a lot. Early on Google had the idea that they would get into enterprise implementation of their technology, becoming a kind of software and services organisation for enterprise people. This overlapped somewhat with what we were doing with GIS although Google had far more limited technology. In 2014 when they decided that they couldn’t sustain that business, they approached us looking for collaboration, and we offered to provide the Google customers who had bought into that technology, licensing of our software for free. Many of their customers moved over to our platform as a result of that.

Once we became committed to supporting the Google Earth Enterprise customers, we discovered that we should take that same technology footprint, that global visualisation, and build a client technology that would be free and disseminate it in the world freely for all sorts of people to use and access our users’ information. So the ArcGIS Earth client technology which is a desktop system (later it will be a browser-based technology) will be provided free to anyone who wants it. And given that visualisation tool, they can connect to open services from our platform, and can also host datasets or services. I think it will very quickly become pervasive in the world as an alternative to the Google base map visualisation. It will basically provide free geospatial technology to a community that doesn’t have it now.

How much does Esri spend on research and development? How do you decide where to focus your R&D?

We spend about 28% of our revenue on R&D, and there are three main drivers. The biggest one is our users, and the reason why we are here at this user conference is to listen to users, both at the technical level and the business level. Every year we send out questionnaires to our users before our big user conferences. It’s a very difficult process because we have to confront that we are not perfect by any means. We figure out then what we must do for the next year’s agenda and that’s a huge influence on how we prioritise and evolve things.

The second major influence is technology changes. We watch that very carefully because our users want to be on the platforms and with the technology framework of the day, not yesterday or five years ago, they are interested in staying current. They are interested in us driving the technology in such a way that it takes advantage of all the platforms and the context of evolution that is occurring.

And the third basic driver is just having some very, very innovative and creative people that work on this and come up with new ideas. I’m continually blown away by what occurs in our development areas. For us it’s not one shot innovation, its continuous evolutionary innovation. It’s very tricky to evolve it so that all of our customers come along and all of our customers can be updated with their databases, their visualisation tools and their app users.

What keeps you working and innovating? Is it just the money?

It’s not the money. I think I love my work. Very few people have been lucky enough to find something that they are really passionate about. I lucked out as a young student. I got totally turned on to the potential of what computing and GIS could really mean for different organisations and individuals. I’ve been at it now for at least 50 years. Speaking quite frankly, if somebody isn’t passionate about what they are doing, they should quit and find a different job.

What is your succession plan?

I am the front person today but our institution is set up as a very stable organisation. There are twelve directors who actually do the real work and at least half of them can take my job easily.

And they have the same game plan as you?

Basically Esri is a company driven by our users. They have lots of ideas and aspirations, and they tell us what to do. We are a private company, and we make money for our users’ benefit. Unlike a public company which is about making money, what we are about is serving our users. That’s been our philosophy for decades.

What legacy would you like to leave behind for the world?

I don’t think I’m actually interested in a legacy; I’m just interested in continuing my work. I would like to share that you can live a meaningful and productive life in service to other people. That’s something I believe in.

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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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The announcement of the appointment of members to the Geomatics Council by Gugile Nkwinti, the minister of rural development and land reform, has been broadly welcomed by the geomatics community. A revisit to a paper by former PLATO president, Paul Marshall, entitled “The way forward for PLATO as a statutory body in the transitionary period towards the new SA Geomatics Council” provides some answers as to what lies ahead.

The first meeting of the Geomatics Council needs to take place within 30 days of the 22 May 2015 publication in the Government Gazette, and this date will then be the commencement date of the new Geomatics Profession Act. Members of the Geomatics Council have been appointed for four years as opposed to the previous council term of two years.

The main difference between the new Act and the 1984 Act is that the new Geomatics Council will becontrolled by the minister while the PLATO council was answerable to the minister. The Geomatics Council is required to meet twice a year as opposed to the previous arrangement of once a year, and it will be funded to a much larger extent by the department. The PLATO council was self-funded and was therefore largely independent of state funding. The new Geomatics Council is obliged to honour all existing commitments made by the PLATO Council.

One of the first new responsibilities of the Geomatics Council will be the publishing, within 90 days of its first meeting, of a code of conduct for its members. Until this new code of conduct is drafted and approved by the minister, the existing PLATO rules will remain in place. Should a conflict between the new Act and the existing rules occur, the Act will prevail. Marshall warned in his paper that while this arrangement will alleviate some of the immediate pressure to draft the code of conduct, it could lead to this matter not being treated with the necessary urgency.

The current Education Advisory Committee is likely to remain in place until a suitable Education and Training Committee is established. Marshall advised in his paper that this committee will need suitable and sufficient permanent members, and will need the backing of the minister to properly carry out its functions, especially the two yearly accreditation of qualifications at institutions offering surveying, mine surveying and geo-information science.

The establishment of a continuing professional development (CPD) programme is a specified duty of the new Geomatics Council and as such it will have much more authority when it comes to enforcing participation in the CPD programme.

A major challenge for the new Geomatics Council is that the Geomatics Act provides for the publishing of a recommended tariff of fees.  While this has generally been viewed as a positive development, the drafting of a “One Tariff Fits All” for the geomatics industry was identified by Marshall as being one of the more difficult tasks to be faced by the new Geomatics Council.

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Lucia Pelser and Meshack Thusi

Meshack Thusi is a third year student at the University of Johannesburg studying electrical engineering. Life for him has been a struggle but he is determined to make something of himself. Setting out from the village of Zwelishane in Mpumalanga with R3000 in cash earned by his street vendor mother, Julia Mkhonto, he headed off to Gauteng and the University of Johannesburg. A rural boy from a poor family, he knew this was his only chance to make something of himself.

 

Despite having no income he managed to get himself registered at the university but his attempts to obtain funding from the NSFAS, the South African government student loan and bursary scheme, were fruitless. A fellow student from his home town tried to provide support by letting Meshack sleep over whenever the landlord was away and by sharing what little food he had.

Aside from having no food and accommodation, Meshack also had no money for textbooks, stationery and the other sundries many of his fellow students take for granted. He resorted to sleeping on campus, hanging around until late in the evening before climbing through open windows to find a safe place to sleep for the night.

His story could have been yet another variant on the student drop-out, but UJ’s engineering faculty had been influenced by the good-hearted generosity of former personal assistant, Lucia Pelser, to start paying attention to the overall well-being of its students.

At 10 pm one night, Lucia received a phone call from Dr. Norah Clarke who had been going through first year survey forms filled out as part of the university’s First Year Experience programme which aims to assist students with the transition from school to university. The survey is intended to provide details on how first year students are coping with the transition, and what Norah read on one of the survey forms disturbed her greatly.  She phoned Lucia to alert her to Meshack’s situation…

Lucia couldn’t sleep that night knowing that one of her students was struggling so.  A self-appointed mother to the engineering students at UJ, she had created her own position as Relationship Co-ordinator through her own kind-heartedness. All her life Lucia has cared deeply for those around her, and the death of her two sons and her daughter being seriously injured in a car accident has made her even more determined to help others. “It’s better to give than to take,” she says.

“Lucia is showing us the true version of humanity,” says Meshack. “I don’t want to disappoint her. We engineers are privileged to have Miss Lucia… it seems easy because we have her.“

Trained as a graphic designer Lucia took a position at UJ as a personal assistant to Prof. Wimpie Clarke at the electrical engineering department. The well-being of the students she encountered quickly became a major concern to her. Soon she was identifying quiet places for the students to study, helping them find suitable accommodation and bringing them food from home.  Her activities came to the attention of her boss, who told her to stop her “underground activities” and take them above ground. People, he said, needed to know what she was doing so that she could help more students.

Once word got out that there was a “mother” in the electrical engineering department, more students went to Lucia for help and in 2010 Prof. Wimpie Clarke pushed her to go full time with her “mothering” activities. In 2012, following appeals from the other engineering departments, Lucia was moved to the Faculty of Engineering where she could be in a position to help all engineering students, and not just the electrical engineers. She was appointed as Relationship Co-ordinator for all engineering students at both the university’s Auckland Park and Doornfontein campuses, overseeing the well-being of over 4000 engineering students.

Returning to Meshack’s story… Lucia still remembers the time she gave him his first textbook, a second-hand one. “He sat there with it, rubbing his fingers along the covers, slowly up and down. The next day he was in my office, his precious textbook in a plastic bag. I handed him an old conference bag to keep his book in. It was his only bag… when he got mugged later that year in Brixton, he pleaded with his attackers not to steal the bag that Miss Lucia had given him…”

“Meshack goes through tough times. Times when he goes hungry,” continues Lucia, “but he is determined to get his degree, that is why I will go the extra mile for him.”

“Everything is possible if you put your mind to it… despite your circumstances,” interjects Meshack. As a young boy growing up in Zwelishane, near Nelspruit, he knew that he wanted to make something of himself. “It’s hard,” he says, “for youth in the rural areas to find a way out.” Encouraged by his Maths teacher Mr. Mandlaka at Mandlesive High School, who passed away last year, and his Principal and Physics teacher Mr. Mlombo, Meshack studied hard. “I wanted to be involved in doing something big… designing things…” he says.

Meshack initially registered as a mechanical engineering student, but once his personal circumstances had been stabilised his experience at university saw him being drawn towards an electrical engineering degree. But before altering his academic path, Meshack had to get past Lucia who was concerned about the motivation for this change. On hearing that his decision was soundly based on his interest in telecommunications and automation, she gave her approval and support for this change in vocation.

These days Meshack is a third-year student with dreams of working at SASOL and travelling the world. Lucia has other plans for him though. She is encouraging him to continue with a Masters degree once his four-year engineering degree is complete. Meshack has other concerns too. He wants to help his mother, and provide her with support. “For the sake of my Mum, I need to get working,” he says. “She is so proud of me… seeing me and my laptop,” he says, adding that their roles have changed, with him being treated as an elder of the family.

For now, Meshack’s financial position is stable. EE Publishers, has provided R25 000 towards his 3rd year tuition fees, with the remainder sponsored by Plasserail.

Chris Yelland, managing director of EE Publishers, says the company is proud to be associated with UJ’s Faculty of Engineering. “I am delighted our donation of R25 000 is being used to assist Meshack continue and complete his studies. We are looking forward to receiving feedback on his progress. We also challenge other companies to get involved in supporting students in need at UJ and at other tertiary institutions.”

Aside from working on his studies, Meshack is helping Lucia to “mother” his fellow engineering students in need. He gives talks to first year students. “You think life is hard,” he tells them, “but look at me… anything is possible.” He also assists with the mentoring programme, helping first years with time management and the correct study methods.

Lucia says there is a big need for money to assist students who have managed on their own so far but who need help. It is four months into 2015, and she has helped 17 of her “kids” get bursaries, another seven find vacation jobs, and nine graduates find employment. She is also working on finding bursaries for 37 electrical engineering students, from first through to fourth year.

Her work is starting to overflow into other faculties at the University of Johannesburg, and also to other universities. Lucia is happy to share her knowledge and experiences of helping her engineering students. “It’s my passion,” she says. “I want to be part of their lives.”

“She is here for us 24/7,” adds Meshack. “Our lives will never be the same because of her.”

It’s no surprise to hear that Lucia was awarded the 2014 UJ Vice-Chancellor’s Distinguished Award for Service Beyond the Normal Call of Duty. All strength to her and her students.

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As South Africa enters its worst drought in over 20 years, the balance of power in the food security versus land reform debate has shifted fundamentally.  Speaking at the 2015 Grain SA Congress in early March, the  Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Senzeni Zokwana expressed concern over the impact of drought on food production for 2015 and 2016 stating  that  “the scale of the drought and its impact will change quite a few of our priorities”.

As of March 2015, the maize crop is likely to be 32% lower than last year and the sunflower crop 31% lower. An Emergency National Drought Task Team Meeting has been set up to discuss the drought conditions in the affected parts of the country and other drought risk management related matters within the sector, with feedback expected shortly.

The expected drop in the 2015 maize yield and the anticipated higher maize prizes, will have an additional impact on food security as maize is a basic input for the production of other food items e.g. red meat , chicken, eggs and milk, leading to associated price increases for basic food products. The power crisis has also contributed to (and will continue to contribute to) heightened food production costs via load shedding and raised energy costs, which will in turn have further additional impacts on South Africa’s food security.

The Regulation of Land Holdings Bill, which President Zuma spoke about in his State of the Nation Address and which Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform Gugile Nkwinti said would be passed into law by September 2015, has the potential to further negatively impact South Africa’s food security via its proposal to limit agricultural land holdings to 12 000 hectares. Farmers have been quick to point out that the 12 000 hectare limit would have a dire impact on certain types of farmers in certain locations i.e. a sheep farmer in the Karoo. Fortunately the agriculture minister has also been quick to re-iterate that nothing is cast in stone on this matter and that more debate is needed.

In addition, the ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe reiterated a number of times at a land reform imbizo held on 26 February 2015 that the ANC fully recognised the importance of food security and the role of commercial farmers in ensuring food security. He also made it clear that the ANC was not in favour of changes that would destroy the agricultural sector.

While land reform does need to be addressed, it is vital that it should not be carried out at the expense of food security. Land reform initiatives need to enhance food security for South Africans by developing effective support programmes for land redistribution beneficiaries, and by supporting joint ventures between successful farmers and new-entrants. Monitoring programmes too are vital for tracking the progress of land claims, the effectiveness of beneficiary support programmes, the provision of adequate supporting infrastructure, and ensuring that adequate crop reserves have been retained for times of drought.

The geospatial community – whether via surveying, GIS, remote sensing, and/or mapping  – has the skills to ensure that all of this gets done. The powers-that-be, the ultimate decision-makers, the ministers, the director-generals, need to be made aware of the super-powers that reside within the geospatial sector so that they can adequately fund and make effective inter-departmental,  co-ordinated use of these skills.

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