By: Paul Miller
Back in October 2010 the then DMR loaded a data dump of raw information, from what must have been the NMPS System - the predecessor to SAMRAD - on to their website. SAMRAD is the current, almost entirely dysfunctional system for management of mining and prospecting right applications in South Africa.
It was a crude 98MB dump of all the then mining right and prospecting right applications per province. The data included the Application ID code, Applicant Name, Type of Application, Status of Application and most importantly the co-ordinates of the land area that was the subject of the application. The data consisted of thousands of pdf pages - 6 933 pages for Mpumalanga, 8 307 for Limpopo, 5 687 for North-West etc. It did not include the commodities covered by the application or the relevant expiry dates and the co-ordinates used included a mixture of different co-ordinate systems.
Fortunately George van der Walt of Geo-Consult International had the good sense at the time to download and save the data - as little did he know that the DMR would soon remove the data from their website and replace the NMPS System with SAMRAD. George kindly provided the data to AmaranthCX.
SAMRAD was launched shortly thereafter in May 2011 to much fanfare, only for the industry's hopes to be dashed shortly thereafter. The system, developed by a company, IRCA Global, which specialised in health & safety consultancy, auditing and training and which had no known experience in delivering cadastral management systems, collapsed soon after launch.
The system had been developed for a miniscule cost of R3.42m and had been rushed into production without any significant testing, in particular, network stress testing. It is said that the data migration from NMPS to SAMRAD was also botched meaning that the cadastral data in SAMRAD has never been entirely reliable. This, combined with system performance issues, led to the Geographical Information Systems functionality being disabled within weeks of the launch.
This has meant, with the odd brief exception, that it is has been either impossible or extremely difficult for the general public to see who has what rights where, for which commodity and for how long - the most basic requirement for a functioning cadastral system.
IRCA Global was liquidated in April 2016, leaving SAMRAD with no ongoing support. This has meant that additional planned modules have never been implemented. For example I'm told Section 102 Amendments to Mining Right areas are not handled or recorded in SAMRAD, but separately, on paper. Unfortunate DMRE officials thus have no single source of truth as to who holds what ground where, making their jobs incredibly difficult.
The most immediate impact of this relates to new prospecting right applications which must be accepted (if the land area is available) or rejected (if the land area is already taken up) within 14 days of application. This 14 day deadline has proved impossible for officials to meet - especially when applicants take a scatter gun approach and apply for hundreds of property portions at once - meaning applications are routinely accepted over ground already held. These applications are then refused at the next "granting" stage, which has no deadline, but after the applicant has invested signifincant time and expense in pursuing the application. This may explain why it can take years to get a Prospecting Right successfully granted.
This is not the regulatory certainty Minister Mantashe keeps promising.
Notwithstanding the above, the 2010 raw data dump has proved to be a treasure trove of information. Software utilities exist that can scrape pdf document data into spreadsheets. Co-ordinate systems can be translated and standardised and then painstakingly matched to surface cadastral land portions provided by the Surveyor-General. This baseline data, combined with some basic geological knowledge and that fact that post the 2014 implementation of the "one environmental system" there has been increased disclosure for environmental and heritage reasons, means that AmaranthCX has been able to produce the first comprehensive map of all Chrome projects and mines in the Bushveld Complex. This is a companion map to the Manganese, Coal and Kimberlite Diamond maps which have aleady been produced.
This map should especially be of use to industry participants in the current debate around a chrome ore export tax. The map is for sale here.
The question then arises - why doesn't the DMRE again upload a similar data dump form SAMRAD to their website? This is, after all, public information. Even the raw information would be useful to the industry and would allow industry partiicpants to crowd source the correction of existing data. If the DMRE is at all serious about transparency as a pillar for the new exploration strategy, then why not start now with the raw data?