A mapping system for visualizing a post-COVID South Africa


15 July 2020

The Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) approached Dr Roy Marcus, a systems and design thinking specialist, to look into the impacts brought about by COVID-19 and how these resemble what we know climate change will force upon South Africa. Dr Marcus makes use of a mapping system for visualizing a post-COVID South Africa to better understand the socio-economic and political relationships, challenges and opportunities facing the country.

According to Cobus Meiring, chair of the Garden Route Environmental Forum, much of the recent and current droughts plaguing the Western Cape, and a great many more wildfire disasters, are the result of a changing climate. This is the case not only for South Africa, but also for the USA and Mozambique. Hurricane Katrina was the costliest storm in US history and the intense tropical cyclone, Idai, was one of the worst tropical cyclones on record to affect Africa. In Australia, Spain and Portugal severe wildfires also caused destruction.

Says Dr Marcus, “As South Africa emerges from one of its worst political and economic crises since democracy was achieved in 1994, the country finds itself having to cope with the surreal Covid-19 pandemic. The social media is awash with commentaries, advice and a whole lot of confusion.  Sadly, in all of the confusion there is little evidence of a systemic approach to gain a better appreciation of the real impact of both the virus itself, as well as the raft of legislation that has been promulgated to lessen the burden of the pandemic.”

“For example, we are witnessing the demise of two major airlines in the country. Both SAA and Comair are in business rescue. There is limited evidence of any discussion relating to the harsh realities the country will face with severely restricted air travel once the lockdown is lifted. In view of these realities, it is suggested that a way of gaining some insight into the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as testing some ideas that may go some way in alleviating the burden, is to produce a systems map.  Such a map will go a long way to “tell the story” and present some ideas as to what the implications of various actions could be on the long-term future of the country.”

This map attempts to present all the key role-players and their influence on the future of this country. The map is based on a Systems and Design Thinking approach and suggests a number of possible outcomes, which could result from either ill-defined decisions or well-informed actions taken by the key stakeholders.

Dr Marcus incorporates a mapping system called Kumu. The developers describe the system as a powerful visualization platform for mapping systems and better understanding relationships.

“We blend systems thinking, stakeholder mapping, and social network analysis to help the world’s top influencers turn ideas into impact”.

“Based on a Design Thinking approach, the model sets out to identify all those factors which contribute to the “Mess Formulation”. Identifying the “mess” is key to finding a way out of the difficulties. The key question in identifying all those factors that contribute to the mess is to determine how the country would eventually destroy itself if it were to continue behaving as it currently is. The mess provides a factual, verifiable and unemotional picture of the current reality.”

As part of an ongoing debate series on parallels drawn on the impact of COVID-19 and that of climate change, GREF intends to have a follow-up discussion with Dr Marcus in order to track the development of the mapping systems and its indicators.

In 2018 Dr Roy Marcus was invited by the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) as a keynote speaker in commemorating the devastating 2017 Knysna wildfire disaster, leaving a trail of destruction on a scale never seen before in South Africa.

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The Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) is a public platform for environmental management entities in the Southern Cape, and a regional think tank on climate change mitigation and adaptation.