South Africa: Municipalities turn to service-delivering drones

Following up on a fact-finding mission in which they seconded delegates to the Drone and Digital Aviation Conference in Johannesburg late last year, Mpumalanga’s Gert Sibande District Municipality has moved forward with their drone programme and trained drone pilots, who are ready to take to the skies and improve service delivery in their municipality.

“The municipality observed that there are cheaper, safer and faster methods of performing day-to-day functions through the use of drones,” says municipal spokesperson Bongi Ka Dube, as quoted by Vuk’uzenzele. Ka Dube believes municipalities should always look to technology to enhance their operations.

“Drones can be used for the assessment of infrastructure, monitoring of greenhouse gas emissions, community safety purposes, land surveillance and many other things,” Ka Dube adds. “The world is transforming to the science of big data and the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This is changing the way things are done, including the performance of municipal functions. Research is critical in understanding how drone technology or any other technological advancements can assist municipalities in executing their functions.”

Gert Zibande has not been alone in the latest drive by municipalities and government agencies to incorporate drone technology in their operations. When he was still Member of the Executive Council for the Gauteng Department of Infrastructure Development, Jack Mamabolo launched the first ever provincial drone programme, where his department employed drone to assess the state of infrastructural projects in the province

“When we came up with this project, we were looking at how we could deliver in a timeous, cost-effective and more efficient manner,” Amanda Moletsane, chief director of the infrastructure and planning division said recently.

In the North of the country, Limpopo province has not been left out. The area’s Greater Tzaneen Municipality used drones were used to educate residents about the COVID-19 pandemic. The municipality outsourced drones to deliver key messaging from the mayor about COVID-19, via loudspeakers which were attached to the drone. Delivered in the most vernacular languages commonly spoken in the area, the messages reminded citizens about social distancing and regular hand washing.

Municipal spokesperson Neville Ndlala said the drones enabled the municipality to quickly reach areas that were difficult to access.

“We wanted to send important safety messages and capture footage. Drones enabled us to reach areas that are normally difficult to access and to broadcast messages to people who were unaware of or simply ignored government’s messages. They also enabled us to ensure compliance with the regulations.”

The municipality will continue to explore the use of drones after the lockdown.

“We see great potential for drones to help with combatting and preventing crime, and collecting important geographical and environmental management information.”

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