Chief Surveyor General

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  Long before an election takes place a delimitation has to be done to determine the extent of electoral divisions, polling districts, placement of polling booths and so forth.

To put this all together, maps must be prepared on which such information can be depicted.

The offices of the Surveyor-General has always been very much involved in delimitation processes prior to elections. During the former dispensation lengthy point to point descriptions of polling districts had to be drawn up for publication in the Government Gazette. Boundaries of magisterial districts, local authorities, electoral divisions and polling districts had to be annotated on maps which would then be printed by the Directorate of Mapping in Mowbray.

In this paper process, which is probably still used by the majority of countries in the world, the information from Central Statistical Services in respect of the number of voters in an area had to be integrated - a most tiresome and inefficient process before each election.

But no more. A total rethink, a new vision and people willing and able to make our democracy work came forward in 1997 with ideas of how to throw away the chains of restriction that the paper process placed on proceedings.

Former Chief Surveyor-General Ken Lester, Norman du Plessis, from the Independent Electoral Committee (IEC) and Mark Orkin from Central Statistical Services (CSS) would direct a new approach in providing meaningful information for democratic elections. They became the three wizards who would make projects Eagle, Elf, Falcon, Merge and Miracle deliver the magic that was required.

In this whirlpool of wonders DLA was a shining star with Projects Miracle and merge delivering the first electronic map to the IEC. The basis of this map was the depiction of each parcel of surveyed land, street patterns and the boundaries of magisterial districts and local authorities by the offices of the Surveyor-General. To this data was added certain topographical data such as rivers and roads from the Chief Directorate of Surveys and Mapping.

To make this map the powerful tool that the IEC required, the Enumerator Areas (census areas) from the CSS were embedded into the cadastral data of the Surveyor-General.

The most ambitious part of the total project was project Miracle which had as its goal the capture of all the urban land parcels and to merge that with the existing 300,000 rural land parcels already existing in the spatial databases of the Surveyor-General (SG) Offices.

Why Miracle?

To capture 6,2 million urban land parcels into a digital format within ten months would require the four SG offices together to capture 30,000 land parcels per day - an impossible task. At first the general consensus amongst all the role players in the project was that much more than service excellence was required and only a MIRACLE would enable the SGs to deliver.

How did Miracle manage more than service excellence?

The first incentive came from the department in contributing R15 million for overtime, contractors and the purchase of hardware, software and other essential equipment.

  The total commitment of all the project managers, the Miracle Wizard Ken Lester, the consultants Computer Foundation and most of all, the dedication of the staff from the Surveyor's-General and Surveys and Mapping made it all come true.

The positive spirit in which local authorities, Telkom, Land Surveyors and private firms contributed data to the project, made Project Miracle a national effort. Many a time a phone call out of the blue from a firm would provide us with essential digital data or would direct us to a firm with such data.

The offices of the Surveyor-General have always been understaffed and with a project of this magnitude it was necessary to also make use of contract workers. The Free State office in Bloemfontein was the only one that managed with its existing staff. Cape Town and Pietermaritzburg had to employ some contract workers and the Pretoria office employed 60 contract workers working 24 hours per day.

The project was launched in March 1997 and training started in the spatial data called ReGIS. In March and April many beautiful new personal computers (Miracle PCs) were delivered and the stage was set for a very stressful ten months which eventually stretched to 13 months.

Words can never describe the depths of despair experienced when things were going terribly wrong in the course of putting together the first electronic map for the 1999 elections - or the heights of ecstasy when the time came to put the final touches to a very special product.

What other benefits did Miracle deliver?

Apart from the very important electronic map that can be utilised by Central Statistical Services and the Independent Electoral Commission, a spatial database of all the land parcels has been completed.

Ken Lester, former Chief Surveyor-General and Miracle-maker said about the benefits of Miracle: "Various government departments charged with a host of national planning functions need this information in order to fulfill their responsibilities. These functions relate to, among other things, the census, elections, telecommunications, water resources, provision of electricity, housing, and identification of state land as part of the government's land reform policy".

Project Miracle also ensured that skills in spatial data manipulation was imparted to many people from formerly disadvantaged communities. Many of them have been employed by the IEC where they are using their new skills.

What about other projects?

The other projects tended to fade against the brilliance of project Miracle, but they were all very important in the whole schemes of things. The other projects were:

  • Elf: Umbrella project to coordinate the overall project
  • Eagle: The CSS project to spatially capture enumerator areas
  • Falcon: The spatial capture of enumerator areas by the SG Offices
  • Merge: The merging of topographical data with cadastral data (SG data) and the formal rural enumerator areas.