Home Articles South Africa: On a growth path with GIS

South Africa: On a growth path with GIS

Anamika Das
Anamika Das
Sr. Manager – Conferences
GIS Development
Email: [email protected]
South Africa has always been more progressive than other African countries in terms of use of ICT. In 1980s, South Africa was characterised by a general lack of awareness in national and provincial governmental departments regarding what spatial data was available as well as what capabilities GIS offered in practice. This lack of awareness has since dissipated, in part, through the provision of a mandate in the 1990s to the State institutions such as the Chief Directorate: Surveys and Mapping and the Chief Surveyor-General of South Africa. These institutions were tasked with driving the growth and development of GIS in South Africa and currently play a vital role in providing a basic geospatial framework for data. The availability of large-scale population datasets and the proliferation of open source desktop mapping systems in the 1990’s have resulted in GIS becoming a fast growing industry in South Africa. The technology is currently being harnessed by government, semi-private institutions and the private sector for research, planning as well as business purposes. The application of GIS technology in South Africa has provided the country with a crucial link to developments in the region.

The use of GIS in local government in South Africa has risen tremendously in recent years. Municipalities in South Africa are a division of local government and form the lowest level of democratically elected government structures in the country. The Municipal Demarcation Board (MDB) is legally responsible for the drawing of (outer) municipal boundaries and municipal ward boundaries. It uses GIS technology in policy and analytical work and map production. It has embarked on several GIS initiatives aimed at improving the quality of spatial data and participating in programmes to facilitate data sharing.

The City of Ekurhuleni Municipality identified GIS as an important tool to address and analyse in detail the condition of the province and its people with respect to addressing service delivery in the province relating to water, sanitation, waste removal and electricity. “The long term objective of the Ekurhuleni Municipality is to have Internet mapping viewer and CRM system at previously disadvantaged areas” says Morena wa Letšosa, Director Geoinformatics, City of Ekurhuleni Municipality.

Most municipalities in South Africa are using GIS to address issues relating to development planning, disaster management, local economic development, tourism, housing and infrastructure. In a nutshell, GIS has enabled municipalities to effectively quantify basic needs and prioritise service delivery.

The City of Cape Town integrated a GIS into its information system infrastructure. While GIS technology was used throughout the various local councils prior to the amalgamation, it functioned primarily as stand-alone systems with little standardisation and limited compatibility. To reform this legacy, Cape Town implemented an enterprise GIS. This allowed extensive functionality within a multi-user environment and provided an effective spatial data management platform for its users. “Initially, the city concentrated on consolidating electricity and property geodatabases into the GIS, and subsequently added the water services geodatabase to the GIS process,” reveled Russell Hope, Manager – Corporate GIS, City of Cape Town. Since then, a number of other departments like Planning and Valuations, have started implementing GIS technology.

However, many of the developments in GIS are taking place in a strategic and tactical vacuum because the implementation in many municipalities in South Africa, is failing. The outcome has been that GIS is not optimally utilised in local government and the benefits of investing in it are not being fully realised. One of the main reasons why the implementation of GIS has failed in local government has to do with how it was introduced and how the municipality embraced it in the first place. The development of GIS in most, if not all municipalities in South Africa came about through the influence of a project that required the use of GIS as a tool for capturing, manipulating, analysing and presenting spatial information. The shortage of GIS professionals and funding is a key obstacle to the successful implementation of GIS in local government.

Implementation of integrated IT in disaster management in South Africa began in 1998, the ‘El Nino year’. The weather pattern that year was unusual. The Ministry of the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry instructed experts from the Strategic Planning Directorate to use IT for the management of rainfall, river flow and flood. The National Disaster Management Centre (NDMC) of South Africa (at that time Y2K Centre) took up the task. The idea was to monitor and register potential hazards as early as possible and to increase lead warning time. This is one of the main activities at the NDMC main observation room, where there is continuous monitoring of various hazards. In January 2003, the president of South Africa signed the South African Disaster Management Act, a backbone of national disaster management legislation. The main focus is on prevention, which represents a 180-degree turn from historically inherited post-disaster management activity; the Act highlights the role of information as the most significant driver. GIS systems play an important role in the set-up of the system at NDMC. Awareness of the importance of visual information led to GIS being considered a very significant component for interactive communication.

The main disaster management activity at national and provincial levels is coordination, which has, in general, two equally important components: temporal and spatial. The temporal component assumes coordination as a continuous activity. Improvement in the coordination of hazard, vulnerability and risk-related activities requires improved understanding of complex mechanisms and interaction between ‘mother nature’, society and technology. The spatial component has three main directions of coordination: horizontal, vertical and thematic.

Horizontally, coordination as part of the national framework and activities involves bringing together national, provincial and district institutions and organisations that run programmes in support of disaster reduction like Government Departments of Water Affairs and Forestry, Agriculture, Environmental Affairs and Tourism, South African Weather Services, South African Police Service, National Defence Force, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), public and private institutions and businesses and educational institutions. Vertically, coordination occurs among the province, district, metropolis and municipality.

Frequent disasters with attendant damage have heightened climate change related environmental and social vulnerability, emphasising the need for tools to support disaster management. The National Disaster Hazard and Vulnerability Atlas has been developed using Web-enabled GIS as the primary user interface. Twelve hazards are listed at the Atlas website but not all of these are equally present over South African territory. The most dominant natural hazards are forest fire, floods and droughts.

The management and protection of agricultural land has increasingly become important, viewed against the background of food security and sustained management of the country’s natural resources. “This cannot be done without the use of spatial information due to the complexity in utilising the information as a basis for decision making,” commented Anneliza Collett from the Department of Agriculture.

During the early developmental years of GIS in late nineties, the National Department of Agriculture, the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) as well as the nine provincial Departments of Agriculture have expressed the need to work towards a common goal, especially when working with spatial information. This initiative has lead to the development of the Agricultural Geo-referenced Information System (AGIS) – a Web based spatial information system that mainly focuses on serving spatial natural resource information to the broader public, free of charge.

Within AGIS a land use management system has been developed that currently manages all applications pertaining to the sub-division and change of land use. The system, called AgriLand, allows for online capturing of detail information pertaining to the application, the relevant farm portion as well as the progress in terms of the application process. Due to the fact, the system is located within the AGIS environment, it also allows the applicant to determine the status of the agricultural resources relevant to the involved land parcel. This data layers form the basis in evaluating the application pertaining to its agricultural potential and surrounding land use.

To date, the AGIS website has strived to be the “single source of the truth” in assisting in the management of the mentioned. However, what is required is the continued updating of natural resource data and the refinement thereof. All role-players involved in this field should commit themselves in making available relevant spatial data that will assist in the expanding of the country’s natural resource base. Continued research also forms an important factor in ensuring that the best possible decisions are taken pertaining to the management and utilisation of agricultural land.

The Department of Transport (DOT) has initiated to develop a National Transport Master Plan (Natmap) that will develop and establish a multimodal, transportation system to meet South Africa's transport needs as far in the future as 2050. A national passenger and freight transport model is also being developed as part of the project to determine future transport demand based on various future land use scenarios. A GIS and databank is developed to host the planning data for analysis purposes.

Road network planning and management systems are being improved to enable informed decision-making and integrated planning within the roads environment. Interventions include the development of a GIS platform for transport infrastructure, mapping of key corridors and nodes, development of a Road Asset Management System at national level, a National Freight Information System, a Corridor Performance Model and an Accident Information System.

“Natmap is a physical development plan that will focus on transport infrastructure of national significance, in order to meet transport needs of future economic and land use development in a sustainable way, in view of environmental and energy effects” says Bulelani Didiza, Chief Information Officer, Department of Transport. The service providers consist of multidisciplinary teams providing services such as traffic and transportation engineering, computer simulation of transport, GIS, town and regional planning, transport economics, population and economic activity forecasts, environmental, energy, legal, institutional and financial services.

The South African government has set a target of universal access to basic electricity by the year 2012. Eskom Distribution, in conjunction with local municipalities, is responsible for electrification, predominantly in rural areas.

Eskom devised a National Emergency Response plan to manage both the demand and supply side of the energy crisis. Load shedding is one of the features of this plan. According to Eskom, “Shortages on the electricity system unbalance the network, which can cause it to collapse. By rotating the load in a planned and controlled manner, the system remains stable. Eskom uses GIS technology to manage the network.” To generate the load shedding schedules, Eskom personnel query the database by entering an attribute or a number of attributes. The database creates a result in a table.

The GIS technology enables the Eskom personnel to determine the shortest path for an electricity network extension, locate underground pipes and cables, balance the load, plan maintenance, track energy use and track faults.

The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) handles sourcing and capture of cadastral data for forests and determination and alienation of property rights for forests. Following the completion of the national forest type classification, the department initiated a process to develop a systematic protected area planning framework for the forest biome. Such a decision-support tool is aimed to assist DWAF in selecting and designing a protected area network that is representative of forest biodiversity. “This would enable DWAF and the relevant conservation agencies (national and regional) to follow a more objective and systematic approach to forest protected area planning,” says Tom Vorster, Deputy Director: Forestry Information Services, Department of Water Affairs & Forestry. The main objectives of this process was to determine the relative conservation values of forest patches; to assess the relative socio-economic values of forest patches and threats to these forests; to identify priority forests for protection and to propose appropriate International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) protection categories for various forest patches. A decision-support system was developed which is GIS-based aided with expert data analysis.

GIS have many applications in hydrology that use spatial analytic tools to a greater or lesser extent. Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) uses geomatics for hydrographic surveys. The results of hydrographic surveys are used to calculate the amount of sedimentation in a dam, to show where the sediment is collecting in the dam and to calculate a revised capacity table. This information is used by DWAF to manage available storage water, floods and planning for the future. They use geoinformatics for engineering and topographic surveys. This comprises the dam deflection surveys, control surveys and topographic and engineering surveys. Waterworks section handles identification, sourcing and capturing of cadastral data for dams and waterworks and preparation of cadastral plans and survey documents. Much of the responsibility for reporting on surface water quality in South Africa rests with the Institute for Water Quality Studies (IWQS) of the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry. Geographic information systems provide a means to summarise large amounts of spatially and temporally distributed data in an intelligible form.

Informal settlements are common physical entities within the makeup of South African cities. One of the fundamental difficulties that the authorities face when planning a response to the formation and growth of informal settlements, is the lack of spatial and temporal data. In most cases, the cadastral index maps do not include the building structures within informal settlement for the simple reason that they are not part of the formal system. When resources are limited, the settlements are not a priority area for mapping in a city. The changes on the ground are usually fast and it is therefore important to have fairly recent pictures. Additional challenges include deficits in human resources, funding and equipment. All these factors contribute to the difficulty of obtaining the data required for effective planning in and around informal settlement. To overcome some of these difficulties, the basic source of spatial information must therefore be orthophotos or/and satellite images/2009/july. The Department of Public Enterprises along with CSIR is investigating the use of satellite images/2009/july to fill the gaps in the spatial data with the goal to use satellite imagery as a primary data source to map the extent of informal settlements, simultaneously determining the specific settlement type in each area.

The primary function of cadastral system in South Africa is to define ownership rights. Accurate delineation of the ownership rights has enabled the development of a cadastral information system, which forms the basis for land valuation; land taxation, development planning, local authority demarcation and land administration.

“Cadastral surveying in South Africa is undertaken exclusively by or under the control of registered professional land surveyors. The surveyor and conveyancer work closely together to record land ownership and/or rights in a public register kept by the Registrar of Deeds” says Mmuso Riba, Chief Surveyor General, Department Rural Development And Land Reform.

The document prepared by the land surveyor used for registration purposes contains essential information as:

  • The unique designation of the property.
  • An illustration depicting the property.
  • Details of any curvilinear boundary.
  • Descriptions of the corner beacons.
  • A table listing the numerical data of the boundaries.
  • The area of the property.
  • Details of any registered real right over or under the property (e.g. Servitudes or mineral rights).
  • A unique reference number supplied by the surveyor general.

South Africa is fully covered by the National Control Survey System which is of high accuracy and which is marked by a network of trigonometric stations and town survey marks. A second network of active GPS base stations is gradually supplementing the older network. It is a legal requirement that all cadastral surveys are connected to these control networks.

The computerisation programme of the chief surveyor general delivered a computerised map of all land parcels and administrative boundaries in South Africa, which shows the relationship of every piece of land to those adjoining it. In addition, other surveyed real rights, such as servitudes and leases, are also included in this map. The map is continuously upgraded and new approved surveys for registration in the Deeds Offices are added on a daily basis. A viewer is provided free of charge and can be downloaded by anyone that wants to view this data. Linking this electronic map to other intelligent data sets can create a very powerful analysis tool.

It has been used extensively by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) for the recent elections. Various data sources (topographic, cadastral, census information) have been accessed by the IEC in the delimitation of voting districts.

In December 2008, South African President Kgalema Motlanthe has signed a Bill which when becomes a law, will see the creation of South Africa’s own space agency. The National Space Agency Act will pull together all space-related activities under one banner and will provide for the establishment of a national space agency to implement a space programme in South Africa. The agency will promote the peaceful use of outer space, foster research in astronomy, earth observation, communications, navigation and space physics, foster international cooperation in space-related activities, and advance scientific, engineering, and technological competencies through human capital development. The agency will also facilitate the development of space missions, develop technology platforms and acquire, assimilate and disseminate space satellite data for any organ of State.

The agency is also expected to bring together the work of several institutions to boost the economy. Some of the projects it will coordinate include the Square Kilometre Array bid, the Southern African Large Telescope and the launch of South Africa’s second indigenous satellite Sumbandilasat.

SumbandilaSat is South Africa's second satellite, after the launch of SunSat 1, a modest satellite built by students and lecturers at Stellenbosch University and handed over to the Department of Science and Technology. The project was carried out in partnership with SunSpace and Information Systems, the University of Stellenbosch and the Satellite Application Centre. SumbandilaSat will be launched as a secondary payload on Russian Soyuz in August, giving the country affordable access to its own space technology and data. The satellite will be collecting data for use in the management of natural disasters like floods, fires and oil spills in southern Africa. It will also be able to measure temperatures at sea and land, clouds and rainfall, winds, sea levels, ice cover, vegetation cover and gases.

With the focus on developing mechanisms to improve access to existing information, avoid duplication in data collection and management and ensure that new data captured can be easily utilised together with existing geographic data and to enhance their collective values, the department of Land Affairs established a component to coordinate the development of the National Spatial Information Framework (NSIF) in 1997. NSIF is a national initiative to coordinate the development of infrastructure needed to support the utilization of spatial information in decision making. Since 1997, the NSIF provided the parameters for a coherent Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) for South Africa. “The intention is not to create a single central database, but to make it possible to link different databases, which are maintained by agencies, using common standards and protocols” commented Dr. Derek Clarke, Chief Director – Surveys and Mapping, Department of Rural Development and Land Affairs. The biggest achievement for the SDI was the passing of the Spatial Data Infrastructure Bill by Parliament on 25 November 2003.

The Act inter alia deals with:

  • The formal establishment of the South African Spatial Data Infrastructure
  • The Committee for Spatial Information
  • Spatial information standards and prescriptions
  • Capture and publishing of metadata
  • Access to and distribution of spatial information
  • Appointment and accountability of data vendors
  • Agreements on utilisation of spatial information
  • Collaborative maintenance
  • Reporting on data quality
  • Security of spatial information

The SDI deals with three standards for metadata, land cover classification and unique identifiers. The Policy Subcommittee of the Committee on Spatial Information (CSI) finalised the pricing policy and it was approved by the CSI. This policy is applicable to all organs of state and aims to make spatial related products available to users according to the principle of cost of fulfilling user request (COFUR). The second policy being developed by the SDI is called the Data Custodian Policy and centres around the responsibilities of data custodians. The Information Flow Policy deals with collaborative maintenance agreements between organs of State at various levels.

A coordinated approach to building SDI is motivated both by the fact that it is cost effective, as well as necessary to ensure that information from diverse sources can be integrated readily and meaningfully. Development of SDI in South Africa is facing various challenges in terms of willingness of participants and the availability of resources. These factors are, of course, inter-related. In terms of willingness, both policy makers and practitioners need to become willing participants in building SDI. High-level awareness of the importance of using geographic information in supporting sustainable socio-economic development is required at both national and regional levels. It is also necessary to convince funders that the returns on investing in gathering spatial data will outweigh the costs in the medium to long term.

There are not enough people available with GIS skills in South Africa and there is a definite lack of retaining GIS skills within government. People with GIS skills get trained and once they are trained, they leave the civil service to greener pastures. It is suggested that these people be put on a contract that will restrict them from leaving. There is a need for gap identification in skills development in South Africa.

In order to develop and implement the National Qualifications Framework (NQF), a 20 member body was appointed by the Minister of Education and Labour known as the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA). The Authority has set principles and guidelines by which records of learner achievement are registered to enable national recognition of skills and knowledge, thereby ensuring an integrated system that encourages life-long learning. National Standards Bodies (NSB) and the Standards Generating Bodies (SGBs) within these NSBs are responsible for the generation and recommendation of qualifications and standards on the NQF. The SGB responsible for generating the GISc unit standards falls within the NSB.

The lack of GIS skills in the market is due to limited number of GIS people in the market and the under utilisation of existing resources, that gives effect to the term “lack of capacity”. The Department Rural Development and Land Reform has the mandate to facilitate the registration of GIS professionals in the country and has established the policy and regulatory framework to facilitate professional registration.

This article has come through with the overwhelming support of many people. I am thankful to Fritz van der Merwe & Dr. Jane Olwoch, University of Pretoria; Brenton Moonsamy, ABSA Bank; Morena wa Letšosa, City of Ekurhuleni Municipality; Adri de la Rey, Eskom; Rajesh Jock & Bulelani Didiza, Department of Transport; Hillary Monare and Fazel Hoosen, Municipal Demarcation Board; Tozi Mjali & Tom Vorster, Department of Water Affairs & Forestry, David Madurai, Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs; Dr. Derek Clarke & Mmuso Riba, Department Rural Development and Land Reform; Mmaphaka Tau and Wiseman Mkhonza, National Disaster Management Centre; Victor Rajkumar, Department of Public Enterprises; Carey Rajah and Jeanne De Klerk, Department of Water Affairs & Forestry; Anneliza Collett, Department of Agriculture; Prof. Venkataraman Sivakumar, National Laser Centre – Council for Scientific and Industrial Research(CSIR), Tammy Lotz, CSIR – Space Application Centre; James Aphane, Election Commission; Dr. Solomon Bhunu and Russell Hope, City of Cape Town for the useful discussion held with them.