Making SA’s census data (even more) accessible

A new feature of Wazimap will mean that users can see and compare where facilities (e.g. grocery stores) are situated, geographically.

Our census and elections-based tool, Wazimap, is going through some changes in an effort to make it even more user-friendly and encourage people to find out about the province, municipality and community they live in

Of all the tools we’ve created, none have undergone as many changes, adjustments and adaptations as Wazimap. This is in part due to its six-year-long lifespan (and counting!), but also because of its usefulness. Since 2014, Wazimap has been used by South Africans to understand where they live, go to school and do business. It has also become a critical tool for activists, journalists, political parties and many more who need to make informed decisions about their lives and work.

Built on a tool called Census Reporter — which helps journalists tell stories using census-based data and information — Wazimap can be used to map and track issues related to health, education, economics, service delivery, demographics and elections. Using census and election data from 2011, 2014 and 2016, you can create easy-to-understand visualisations and incorporate this information into your own work.

There is a short how-to guide on using Wazimap, including descriptions of its search, filter and visualisation functions.

Wazimap has also led to the creation of a tool called Youth Explorer, which uses the same data, but focuses on young people between the ages of 15 and 24. Issues related to education and child-headed households are of particular interest and focus when it comes to this resource, and like Wazimap, can and has been used by organisations, researchers and journalists to tell all kinds of stories. It has proven so successful that it is being adapted for both Kenya and Nigeria.


There are a handful of new features being introduced to Wazimap. Some of these will directly affect the user, while others will have a more indirect impact.

Admin will now have a lot more flexibility when it comes to loading data. This includes adding massive datasets, and then slicing and dicing in the backend, rather than having to spend a significant amount of time preparing datasets before they land on Wazimap.

For example, imagine adding the complete South African National Census, where each row represents an individual person — this is not something we currently have, but is something we can come close to making available and would be a one-of-a-kind resource.

Staying with this example, imagine there are five columns of information: geography, count, gender, age and income. For each geography, you would have every combination of gender, age and income. The more columns you have, the larger your dataset and the more information you can access in a single place.

This would allow you access to the following piece of information: gender breakdown; age breakdown; income breakdown, income breakdown by gender, income breakdown by gender for 20–30 year-olds, and so on.

In its current and soon-to-be old functionality, each of these bits of information would be housed in a separate data table. This makes analysis difficult to begin with, because first you would need to do a lot of work creating a single spreadsheet that contains all of the information you want to consider. This new solution can combat that.

Users can now view maps that make it easier to identify patterns, and datasets that offer a more comprehensive overview of the area they have selected to focus on.

There is a change in the types of maps made available. We now have choropleths (a thematic map in which areas are shaded or patterned in proportion to a particular variable) built into the main view. Previously, these were hidden behind about six clicks and no one knew that they existed. This means that you can now visualise a value over a geographical area (e.g. a province or municipality), to better understand any patterns that might exist.

Point data is now fully integrated as a first-class spatial object. This is simply tech speak for being able to compare where facilities (e.g. Early Childhood Development centres) and people (e.g. children) are situated, geographically.

Multiple profiles can exist on the same database, and can even share databases if necessary. For instance, Wazimap and Youth Explorer can live on the same installations. This will make access to information a lot easier and inevitably, more user-friendly.


With every new adventure — even ones that are not entirely new — comes its own set of challenges to overcome. This is something we take very seriously with all of the work we do, and why user feedback is equally as important as internal feedback and suggestions.

Being able to add geography comparisons and even multiple geographic side-by-side. These are changes we are still working on and ones which we know are possible, but will take some time to happen.

While we are able to create separate geography hierarchs, it isn’t yet clear how to deal with situations where we have separate roots. In short, we only have one root, which is, in our case, South Africa and we want to be able to compare (e.g.) multiple countries or places. This too is a challenge that we’re working on and is scheduled to happen in the near future.


Wazimap is an indispensable tool for all municipalities, government departments and civil society organisations. It can assist these with policies, planning and decision-making as it highlights issues and shows where change needs to happen.

You can use Wazimap to do more than just get a quick overview of your municipality. You can also download data, draw maps, and compare values across many places at once.

If you want to stay up to date with Wazimap changes and learn more about using the tool, follow us on Twitter and be sure to visit in the coming weeks.

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