Land survey act under review

January 23rd, 2018, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: PositionIT, Featured: PositionIT

The Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform has published the Land Survey Amendment Bill 2017 for public comment on 22 December 2017, with comments due by 20 February 2018.

The bill proposes amendments to the Land Survey Act 8 of 1997, and has four objectives:

  • aligning the act with the current structure of the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR);
  • amending certain definitions;
  • providing for the appointment of members of the Survey Regulations Board;
  • regulating the survey of land in South Africa and providing for related matters.

Above: The proposed amendments, noted on the Land Survey Act of 1997. (Use the skip functions to navigate through all the proposed changes, or select the “Notes” tab to see a summary of the individual changes.)

The most important change proposed is the consolidation of the Chief Director: Surveys and Mapping’s role under the Chief Surveyor-General. The two entities fulfil different legislative functions, with the Chief Surveyor-General managing the policy and direction of cadastral surveys, while the Chief Director manages topographical and geodetic surveys.

Consolidating roles

To align the act with the DRDLR’s structure, the bill repeals and amends all references to the Chief Director of Surveys and Mapping. To consolidate and expand the Chief Surveyor-General’s authority, the bill also seeks to introduce new definitions. These include definitions for “geodetic”, “topographical”, and “trigonometrical”, as well as refining the definition of “trigonometrical station”.

The new definitions empower the Chief Surveyor-General to take charge of geodetic, topographical and cadastral surveys in South Africa (see Clause 3 of the bill). The Chief Surveyor-General’s authority is expanded from those employed in the office of the Chief Surveyor-General, to those under the direction of the Chief Surveyor-General (see Clause 3).

Clauses 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 of the bill all relate to the removal of the Chief Director: Surveys and Mapping.

Survey Regulations Board

Other proposed amendments pertain to the Survey Regulations Board. Land surveyors nominated by the council are now to be appointed by the minister (as opposed to the council in the original act) (see Clause 6).

The bill also prescribes a two-year term limit for members of the board – for both the surveyors appointed by the minister and those nominated by the council. The proposed amendment also gives the minister (as opposed to the council) the authority to remove a council-nominated board member (upon the council’s request). It further introduces a 14-day time limit for the minister to make this decision, failing which the request will be deemed granted.

Survey practice

The amendments also repeal the lodging of provisional general plans (see Clause 7), since the Survey Regulations Board determined that provisional general plans have become an unnecessary burden on South Africa’s cadastral system and are no longer needed.

Comments and responses

The bill is open for comments until 20 February 2018. So far, the initial responses from industry have been mixed.

The South African Geomatics Institute (SAGI) – a public benefit organisation focusing on the business aspects of registered surveyors – has indicated that it will object to the consolidation of the two roles.

“We believe the Chief Surveyor-General and Chief Director entities serve two different functions,” SAGI President Peter Newmarch said. “SAGI does not believe that law should be made to fit an organisational structure – it should be the other way around.” Newmarch also questioned the logic of the bill, which he said neglects to address many more serious and urgent issues the profession faces.

Other members in both the land survey and the GIS communities consider the vast majority of changes to be administrative. A prominent, recently retired surveyor went on to suggest that the consolidation of roles paves the way for the department to create a single, self-contained geospatial entity in line with a global trend, as seen by geospatial organisations such as the Ordinance Survey in the UK. This could have the benefit of creating a more efficient and centralised service.

Consolidating two different functions implies a consolidation of their budgets, which some fear could indirectly impact the broader geospatial profession, such as the GIS profession which feeds into the Chief Directorate: National Geo-spatial Information (CD: NGI). However, Geo-Information Society of South Africa (GISSA) Gauteng chairperson, Sam Osei, who also works in the DRDLR, said “this amendment has no effect on the GIS profession. It is a departmental (DRDLR) cosmetic change.”

It is also worth mentioning that the GIS profession is regulated by different legislation altogether (the Spatial Data Infrastructure Act 54 of 2003 and the Geomatics Profession Act 19 of 2013).

Should the amendments be passed, they could also have implications for other legislation, such as the South African Geographical Names Council Act 118 1998, which makes direct reference to the Chief Director of Surveys and Mapping as the Chief Director holds a position on that council.

Comments and enquiries can be emailed to Nhlanhla Mazibuko at by no later than 20 February 2018. These can also be posted for the attention of The Chief Surveyor-General: Rural Development and Land Reform for the attention of Mr Nhlanhla Mazibuko, Private Bag X954, PRETORIA, 0001.

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