Map use in South Africa

Map use in South Africa


Derek Clarke
Chief Director of Surveys and Mapping
South Africa
[email protected]
Despite the obvious need to use maps (geo-spatial information) for development planning and decision making the record of map use in South Africa is poor. The reasons for this state of poor map use needs investigation. The situation does not support the development needs of the country. However, there has been growth in the use of geo-spatial information

The Republic of South Africa covers an area of 1.22 million square kilometers and has a population of about 44 million people. It is classified as a developing country, with a skewed development pattern resulting from the apartheid policies of the past. The development needs of the country, particularly in the rural areas are high. The government has set development targets to address the basic needs of communities, such as poverty alleviation, housing, access to potable water and safe sanitation, as well as economic growth.

Most development takes place in a spatial context, that is, it is located somewhere or there exists a relationship between phenomena at a place or in adjoining regions. Information is required to answer development problems and opportunities. This type of information is generally referred to as geo-spatial information. The map, either in hard-copy or digital format, then becomes an essential decision aid tool in the planning and monitoring of development programmes and projects. All planners and decision-makers should be using a map (geo-spatial information) when executing their work.

Despite the obvious need to use maps (geo-spatial information) for development planning and decision making the record of map use in South Africa is poor. The reasons for this state of poor map use needs investigation.

Lack of Use of Geo-spatial Information
The lack of information or the use of information is given as a major reason for the failure of development projects (Todaro, 2000:637). Conyers and Hill (1990:88) reinforce this by stressing the important role that information plays in development planning because “planning is a process of decision-making and decisions cannot be made with at least a certain amount of information.” In supporting the important role that information plays in orderly planning Clarke (1998:14 – 15) states that “no country can expect to see rapid and sustainable development without relevant (geo-)spatial information.” The United Nations Division for Sustainable Development in its Agenda 21 (paragraph 40.1) states that “in sustainable development, everyone is a user and provider of information considered in the broad sense. That includes data, information, appropriately packaged experience and knowledge. The need for information arises at all levels, from that of senior decision maker at the national and international levels to the grass-roots and individual levels.” (UN Div for Sustainable Development, 2003: Ch 40). EIS-AFRICA (2002:4) reinforces Agenda 21 in the need for geo-spatial information as being vital in development planning in Africa because when such information is “readily accessible, creative problem solving can lead to sound decisions with a lasting, positive impact on people’s lives.” It is claimed that as much as 80% of decisions are based on some spatial aspects (Malczewski, 1999:3; Ostensen, 2001:16).

If information is so important in the development planning process then why is it not utilized? More specifically, why is geo-spatial information not utilized? There could be various reasons, including the lack of access to geo-spatial information, the lack of availability of geo-spatial information and the lack of competency to use this information. Ottosson (1988:28) reports that the use of maps is frequently considered to be something relatively difficult. He is of the opinion that this view is due to basic difficulties in map understanding – map literacy.

In South Africa this difficulty of map understanding is evident in the poor results of the examination at the final year of schooling (Grade 12) for Geography, and has been lamented by most examining bodies (Innes, 1998:1). These reports are based on the results of those learners that studied Geography, but this must been seen in the context of the low numbers of learners that study Geography – in 2000 only 50% of Grade 12 learners studied Geography (Innes and Engel, 2001:4). The low numbers of learners studying Geography and the poor results attained by those studying Geography could be attributable to the skewed education system of the past in South Africa (Clarke, 1997:60). The low number of learners leaving school with an adequate competence in map literacy does not bode well for the use of maps in the future workplace.

Low levels of map literacy have been found among public and development sector planners and implementers, as evidenced in the Map Literacy / Map Awareness (MapAware) workshops conducted by the Chief Directorate of Surveys and Mapping, South Africa’s national mapping organization. The results of a test performed on workshop participants showed an average score of only 59% based on elementary level tasks (Innes and Engel, 2001:14 – 15).

The low use of maps in South Africa is also evidenced in the very low number of maps per head of population distributed by the national mapping organization in comparison to other more developed countries (Clarke, 1997:60). It is possible that the low use of maps is not only attributable to low levels of map literacy – the lack of easy access to maps may also contribute to this. However, the great need that has been expressed by development planners in South Africa for map literacy training and their perception that many planners are not map literate supports the statement (CDSM, 2002:4.24).