Uber Uber data

“At Uber, data is our biggest asset”, writes Nicolas Garcia Belmonte, who does awesome visualisations for the taxi company on cocaine. What’s really interesting about this article is how he breaks down the different types of visualisations, from data narratives like we use in data journalism, through to abstract visualisations (which don’t show the real world) and mapping visualisations. He also talks about tech stacks, including stuff they’ve built and open sourced.


And a bit more Uber data

If you want to see your personal Uber stats, here’s a cool tool from an Uber hackathon.

Happy never after: divorce in SA

Wedding venues might be a b$tch to book, but South Africans are also keeping the divorce court pretty busy. Now new data can help you “divorce-proof” your union a little bit, at least statistically-speaking.

Happily never after Divorce in SAInfographic

This visualisation was first published by Women 24 on 23 June 2016




Metros falling way behind in issuing of property title deeds

Administrative problems, together with a failure to root out abuse of the housing allocation system, is tripping up the delivery of title deeds to beneficiaries in the country’s cities, with one metro failing to hand over any title deeds in two years.

Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu told MPs in a recent written reply to queries that SA’s eight metropolitan municipalities only managed to hand over 28,232 title deeds to beneficiaries between 2013 and last year.

This disclosure comes on the back of a growing housing backlog that is most pronounced in the metros. An average of 18% of households in metros are informal dwellings, according to Statistics South Africa data.

The figure for informal dwellers does not suggest that all occupants of those households are on the list to receive a house. This merely illustrates the magnitude of the need for housing.

Last week, the Department of Human Settlements acknowledged a housing backlog of more than 2-million. Abuse of the system and administrative hurdles make the backlog even bigger.

In her written reply, Sisulu told Parliament that programmes by her department had resulted in metropolitan municipalities issuing 15,321 title deeds to households in the 2013-14 financial year.

“During the 2014-15 financial year, a total of 12,911 title deeds were delivered to households by the respective metropolitan municipalities as part of the housing and human settlement programmes,” Sisulu said.

The City of Cape Town (7,924) and Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality (7,896) handed over the most title deeds to recipients. The Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Municipality did not hand over any title deeds in those two years.

The City of Johannesburg did not hand over any title deeds in 2013-14, but issued 1,758 the following year. Buffalo City municipality issued no title deeds in 2013-14, but gave out 2,925 in 2014-15.

The Democratic Alliance’s spokesman for human settlements, Makashule Gana, said the Johannesburg metro council needed to deliver 200,000 title deeds yearly to clear their current backlog.

He said the allocation system should be expedited to eliminate abuse. “A beneficiary’s letter of approval to move in should be their title deed.”

This article was originally published by Business Day on 26 April 2016


 Stats SA


Between countries

When Ghislain’s father died in Congo Brazzaville last year, the threat of either prison or death meant the 35 year old father of one could not go home to bury him. Instead, he wept alone in his room in the house he takes care of in Cape Town.

After civil war broke out in Congo Brazzaville, Ghislain fled to neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo. When he returned home a year later he was accused of being a rebel, and arrested.

After being released and detained three times, he escaped from prison with help from a sympathetic rebel commander, and fled to South Africa in 2011.

For the five years since his arrival, the 35-year-old asylum seeker has been at the mercy of the South African government, waiting in limbo for his appeal to be awarded refugee status to be heard. His initial application for asylum was rejected.

His chances of being granted asylum in South Africa are uncertain, even slim. For now, he waits, and like many others is forced to sacrifice up to two days at a time every three months to renew his asylum permit at the Temporary Refugee Facility in Cape Town.

South Africa rejects more refugee applications than any other country in the world, according to an analysis of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) data conducted by Code for South Africa’s Data Journalism Academy.
The data shows that South Africa turned down 81% of the refugee applications it received during 2014 and the first half of 2015, compared to the international average of 21% for the same period.

Screenshot from 2016-04-04 11:07:05Screenshot from 2016-04-04 11:08:19

Click on the images for an interactive version

That means that South Africa received the third highest number of applications for refugee status in the world. This, during a time when Europe received one of its largest influxes of refugees from Africa and the Middle East, fleeing war in Syria and the aftermath of the Libyan war, and the expansion of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) across the Middle East.

The UNHCR data also revealed that, with nearly 800 000 cases, South Africa had over a third of the world’s pending refugee applications.

The UNHCR data showed a trend: the majority of asylum applications received by South Africa come from African and Asian countries, including Bangladesh and India. This preference, combined with a massive backlog in the processing of applications by the Department of Home Affairs, created a humanitarian crisis that saw thousands of people struggle in situations much like Ghislain’s.

Roni Amit of the African Centre for Migration and Society at Wits University, whose research in 2012 showed that only around half of all refugee applicants were economic migrants, suggested that the government was intentionally conflating immigrants with refugees to keep people out.

Said Amit: “The rejection rate is so high because they use it as a migration management method to keep people out of the country – it is in their interest. They see all refugees as economic migrants.”

“Part of the problem is the demand on the system, and Home Affairs didn’t increase its capacity because it wanted to decrease demand.”

But spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs, Mayihlome Tshwete said this was not aimed at preventing people from seeking asylum in SA. Instead, he said the department believed that fraudulent claims by economic migrants who made “deliberate attempts to abuse the system” by applying for refugee status when it wasn’t warranted, were the cause of the backlog.
Since 2012, the government has closed refugee application centres in Port Elizabeth, Cape Town and Johannesburg.

The department of home affairs rejected 96% of refugee applications in 2015, according to a report on asylum statistics for that year, presented to Parliament on the 8th of March.

The report said that by the end of the first quarter of 2015, 2406 people were granted asylum. For the rest of the year, only a further 93 applications received a positive ruling.

According to the department’s report: “Following the SCRA process of monitoring the quality of RSDO’s adjudication and decisions, RSD figures shifted drastically from approvals and unfounded towards manifestly unfounded decisions; thus, confirming the department’s assertion that most new asylum applications are not genuine asylum seekers but rather persons seeking employment or other socio-economic opportunities in the country.”

But this monitoring practice has since been disbanded due to capacity constraints, according to the report.

At the heart of the problem was the failure to have properly qualified, trained RDSO’s, according to attorney William Kerfoot, from the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) in Cape Town. The LRC assists with up to 6000 asylum seekers’ appeal cases annually.

“The latest fashion is under-educated, incompetent refugee status determination officers (who) view each application as fraudulent and therefore as manifestly unfounded,” Kerfoot said. “If they don’t say it’s fraudulent, they say it’s unfounded.”

“In many instances they have the power of life and death in their hands and they get it wrong most of the time. They commit procedural and substantive errors on a daily basis.”

Tshwete admitted that there was a problem with capacity within the department, but said that there were deliberate attempts to abuse weaknesses in the process when it came to capacity.

“People are seeing that the easiest way into SA is as an asylum seeker,” Tshwete said. “We have a majority of people who know that they can apply and also know that they can appeal and still stay for up to five years. Even with manifestly unfounded judgments people still know they can appeal.

“Many people, like those from Zimbabwe, come from countries that aren’t in civil war. We get the impression that most asylum seekers from these countries are economic migrants.

“Our system is liberal, and by its nature it casts a wide net and makes it harder to distinguish between genuine (applications) and not. We need to remove economic migrants from the asylum process so that we can assess them properly.”

Tshwete said the department had plans for amendments to increase capacity which it would be pushing for in the next two years, but would not give further details.

For now, Ghislain joins the ranks of the 150 000 asylum seekers that have come to South Africa, and the thousands among them who exist in a years-long state of uncertainty; in the long queues at the refugee application centres, caught up in a constant battle with bureaucracy, prevented from starting over, but unable to go back.

The article was originally published by TimesLive on March 22, 2016


DFID – UK Department for International Development [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees – Refugee statistics 2014
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees – Refugee statistics mid-year trends 2015
Farren Collins and Lotte Manicom (own work)

The exodus of teachers from SA is not slowing down

SA is losing thousands of teachers annually, and most are headed to the United Kingdom.

Teachers battling to get by in SA are opting to relocate to the UK, Australia, Canada and other countries where they can earn better salaries, save money or make enough to pay off their debts, according to data analysis conducted by the Code for South Africa Data Journalism Academy.

And the exodus is showing no sign of slowing down.

While the trend illustrates the vast opportunities available for South African professionals beyond the country’s borders, it also underscores the difficulty that SA faces in retaining or attracting much-needed skills, including engineering and mathematical skills.

An analysis of data from Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries shows that 17,752 South African teachers were working abroad last year in countries including the UK, Canada Australia and Portugal.

This is according to the latest available data, compiled in September last year.

The data records the migration of highly skilled and educated South Africans to all 34 OECD nations. Non-OECD member states are not included. Of these teachers working abroad, 10,988 were working in the UK, the highest figure of any OECD nation.

A teacher, who asked not to be named, says if he had a choice, he would have never emigrated. But, “underwhelming” work prospects and debt in SA drove him to seek work in the UK.

He did not want to be named as his visa application to leave the UK to work in Dubai is at a sensitive stage, and he feared that being named would jeopardise his chances of being granted the visa.

“I actually would never have left SA if it were not for my financial situation. But what I was earning was not nearly enough for me to live comfortably. I love my country and would not want to live anywhere else,” he said.

The teacher, who has a BSc degree in physiology, says he applied to work abroad after hearing about a recruitment agency that was looking for teachers to work in the UK.

He is now considering moving to Dubai, which is an increasingly popular destination for South African teachers wanting to work abroad.

A recruitment agency, SA Recruitment, claims to have successfully placed hundreds of teachers across the Middle East and Malaysia alone.

In SA, educationists are given inadequate benefits as employees, the teacher says.

“The state used to provide two-thirds of cost for medical aid. Now, there is a fixed amount with a ceiling,” he says.

“The housing subsidy also used to be a percentage of the cost and now it’s a fixed allowance of less than a thousand rand.”

Research by the Homecoming Revolution, an organisation that assists South Africans living abroad who want to return home, shows that 45% of people who left SA did so for career opportunities. The OECD data shows that teachers in Australia, the UK and the US earned some of the highest average incomes among OECD countries.

The migration of skilled professionals underscores a strife-ridden economy with dwindling prospects, even for the educated and skilled, according to some think-tanks.

Mienke Steytler, of the South African Institute of Race Relations, says the country’s lacklustre economic performance is driving the immigration of highly skilled professionals to countries with better work conditions, salaries and stronger currencies.

“The economy is unlikely to grow beyond 0% in 2016 and the expanded youth unemployment rate for 25-34 years of age is at 39.4%,” Ms Steytler says.

“Young women are also most affected — of young women between the ages of 25 and 34, 45.2% are unemployed, compared to 34.4% of males.

“So, it is not surprising at all that young women in particular are leaving,” she says.

Countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK favour highly skilled female migrants, she says.

These countries absorb about 75% of SA emigrants, according to the South African Institute of Professional Accountants.

Australia receives the greatest number of highly skilled migrants from SA, the OECD data shows. SA is also losing more than 11,000 workers in other sectors, including mining, protection services, sales, building and extraction.

This article was originally published by Business Day on March 23, 2016


 Additional statistics provided by Mienke Mari Steytler
 South Africa’s Skills Leak
 Shaun Uthum (Business Day)
 List of OECD Members countries
 OECD Statistics

Cauliflower sales: A head for figures

Rest easy. If you are on the Banting diet, you cannot be held responsible for the increase in cauliflower prices — at the wholesale level anyway — over the past few months.

Demand for cauliflower, especially in suburban supermarkets, has increased.

The Banting diet was made popular by sports health scientist Tim Noakes in his book, The Real Meal Revolution. Noakes has attracted admiration and criticism for his support of a low-carbohydrate and high-fat diet, which is not consistent with mainstream scientific views.

To compensate for the absence of carbohydrate-rich foods such as bread and rice, Noakes advises people to eat cauliflower.

The growing popularity of the Banting diet has caused sharp growth in demand for cauliflower-based dishes such as cauli-rice and cauliflower pizza bases.

It has also fueled speculation that the diet is behind a rise in cauliflower prices.

But data gathered by the Code for South Africa Data Journalism Academy on vegetable production and pricing in Cape Town from January 2011 to December 2015 found little basis for this belief. Instead it showed a strong correlation between supply and pricing, with available supply seemingly driving price.

For example, cauliflower sales rose by 74% year on year to 220 tons in June 2015, which was matched by a 29.45% drop in the average selling price to R4,489/t. The inverse was true for June 2015, when sales dropped 32.6% to 164t, but the average selling price shot up by 44.45%.

The correlation is so strong, it looks as though it comes straight out of an economics textbook.


Agri SA senior economist Thabi Nkosi is not surprised by the efficiency in the cauliflower market. As fresh produce expires quickly, it suits both buyers and sellers to reach a price with little delay.

“When it comes to vegetables there is a short time frame between production and consumption,” she points out.

The data also shows that the volume of cauliflower available for sale had trended upwards since Noakes started punting the diet in early 2014. Average prices per ton fell over this period.

But some consumers point to a recent spike in prices. This may be explained by a seasonal trend: cauliflower production spiked in October, resulting in a fall in prices.

After that, sales fell 45% to 142t when measured y/y in December, and prices surged 88% to an average of R5,112/t for the month.

The data, however, does not tell the whole story. Once the cauliflower leaves the gates of the Cape Town Market, prices will vary from retailer to retailer.

Nkosi says she “would not say that the Banting diet has anything to do with [prices] .” The rise should be seen against a background of overall food price hikes, a consequence of drought, she says.

The SA Reserve Bank said in January that it expected food price inflation to rise to 11% y/y in the fourth quarter of 2016. This is the highest rise in five years and sharply up from the 5.9% increase recorded in December 2015.

This article was originally published by Financial mail on March 10, 2016


Xosema (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Western Cape monthly market reports – vegetables
Price per market per month
Change in sales and price