Chief Surveyor General

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  Project Miracle, which aims to capture approximately 6,2 million urban properties - around 30 000 a day - into digital format, is nearing completion in time for the deadline of end-1997.

The mammoth task, which would have ordinarily been difficult to achieve within five years, has been achieved within the brief space of just eight months with the help of a host of outside contractors as well as a total of 160 jobless people.

Wilhelm Herbst, managing director of Ariel Technologies subsidiary, Computer Foundation, whose ReGIS geographic information system was used to capture all the boundaries, believes the achievement is a feather in the cap for the RDP.

"People who were previously battling to get into the job market have in the past eight months gained skills which are resulting in their being offered full-time employment by various agents including local authorities, companies that work with the Office of the Surveyor General (SG), as well as the SG offices themselves."

He explains: "Being closely involved from a project management point of view on Project Miracle, Computer Foundation was responsible for forming a large skills pool for a range of functions including receiving drawings from outside offices, checking these, capturing new data, performing GIS capture off CAD data, as well as general administrative work.

"We placed a number of advertisements in the local press and phoned education institutions asking for people whose only qualifications need be that they were comfortable in Windows," says Herbst. "What standard they had passed at school, was irrelevant.

"Many found out about it through word of mouth and we began interviewing people, many of whom came in off the street after receiving brief, informal instruction in Windows from people they knew, who had computers."

  Following a five-day, intensive training course on ReGIS and procedures within the Offices of the Surveyor General, the 160 successful applicants were put to work in five shifts each per week in April this year, in Pietermaritzburg, Pretoria and Cape Town. In some cases, shifts - which were supervised by SG personnel - ran to 24 hours per day and over weekends.

"We were working against the clock, as other agents responsible for planning a host of functions, the most important being the 1999 general elections, needed the information to complete their own projects in time," he says.

"This will be the first time in history of South Africa where black formal, informal and tribal areas will be included in the registration of voters. We therefore needed solid base data on which to capture enumerated boundaries."

Both the Pietermaritzburg and Cape Town offices will have met the deadline for end November, while Pretoria will close off just slightly after the cut-off date.

"This is an outstanding achievement," notes Herbst. "Their success was a tribute to both the RDP and to free enterprise. And we never had a single second's labour problems."

As a result of their experience gained over the past eight months, those involved in the project are now sought after for both their GIS skills and knowledge of the workings of the SG Office.