It is the right of every South African to have access to justice and that right is specifically provided for by Section 34 of the Constitution, 1996 and this also relates to the location of courts and their service areas. Due to South Africa’s past spatial development history the location of people versus where facilities are, is not always in balance. In addition demographic change has occurred in many places which can result in people being far from such facilities (The jurisdiction of a district court means that residents in the demarcation of the magisterial district can only go to its courts as the entry point to the courts system). In order to improve spatial justice and in support the process of rationalisation of the magisterial districts the CSIR has undertaken geospatial accessibility analysis supplemented with several case specific investigations. This also has implication for other services as courts are also linked to services provided by other government departments such as Dept. Home affairs and Dept. of Social Development, Dept. correctional services, the Police service etc. There are also other specialised courts which are not relevant here as the focus is on the district courts. This Department of Justice is applying phased approach dealing with two provinces at a time that will eventually cover all provinces. This project commenced in 2014 and currently four provinces has been completed namely the North West, Gauteng, Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces. The newly promulgated magisterial districts were also published on the Department's website illustrating the new magisterial district areas and listing the areas that fall within these new magisterial district boundaries.

Insights & Findings

The analysis of boundary adjustments required the use of several analytical procedures to produce the required basic statistics and visual results that can be used to inform decision makers of the implications of boundary adjustments to the service areas, the population serviced and the capacity of courts. These measures all relate to physical access (distance). Current spatial demarcations such as Enumerator Areas, Small Areas, Sub-places, and Wards are not suitable for accessibility analysis due to their significant zone size variations across a region. As a result a more uniform tessellation was created for each analysis area. Using interaction-analysis software the implication of boundary adjustments on service areas and average network travel distances to courts can be determined. The following provides a mapped example of an Accessibility analysis (portion of the Limpopo province).

The results of this analysis can in turn be quantified to produce a range of statistics for each area. Although the focus of the analysis is on geographic accessibility, it must be pointed out that there are a number of other current local factors that influence accessibility. These include:

  • The types of services offered at facilities
  • Frequency of public transport
  • Affordability
  • Number of trips required

Apart from considering the access to courts, the issue of extent to which other facilities are spatially integrated with the courts was also identified for investigation.

Application & Development

The use of GIS-linked interaction models and use of tessellated spatial framework for analysis proved useful in doing the accessibility analysis – naturally there is always a dependence on complete and accurate data in order to produce suitable results. Although geographic accessibility is useful to measure and propose changes with regard to magisterial districts there are also other more functional realities that can be affect access – these are typically not a spatial access issue. The accessibility analysis information provided serves as an input into the broader process followed led by the Department of Justice to determine the new magisterial district demarcation.

During the 2015 International cartographic conference a paper was presented on this project. In addition final demarcations of new proclaimed magisterial districts and courts can be accessed the Department of Justice and Correctional services website.


Core Team:

Johan Maritz, Makena Moagi**, Andre Breytenbach, Alize le Roux, Peter Schmitz, Dumisani Ndaba, Pryaska Padayachee, Larry Zietsman, Thuli Ndlovu

For more information contact:

Johan Maritz, CSIR


Makena Moagi**, DoJ

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