Geographers attempt to relate the earth's physical characteristics to the distribution and habits of people. Geographical study focuses on questions, problems and issues arising from the interrelationship between people and their environments.
Many geographers teach at secondary schools, colleges and universities. Others are involved in research, studying and analysing natural and human resources, the distribution and structure of political organisations, transportation systems, urban systems, agriculture, industry, regional development, maps, aerial photographs and data from satellites. Maps, graphs and diagrams may be constructed. Expertise in decision-making, environmental resources, planning and research methods provide a background for other jobs.
Individuals, organisations and governments worldwide, agree that the quality of the environment is deteriorating at such a rate that life itself is threatened due to the rapid depletion and misuse of natural resources. Geography involves the study of the total relationship between man and the environment. Geographical studies make a contribution towards long-term sustainable use of the world’s resources.
Geographers who are more inclined towards the natural sciences get involved in the study of physical and biological aspects of the environment (land forms, climate, soil, vegetation, animals), by studying such problems as erosion, desertification, nature conservation, landscape evaluation, environmental impact and resource ecology.
Geographers who are more interested in people and the explanation of their activities and way of life, usually specialise in socio-economic aspects. Urbanisation, with its associated problems such as squatting, is a topic presently of great importance in South Africa.
Attempts to explain other land use practices such as agriculture, mining and tourism, against the background of people’s use (and misuse) of resources, are further examples of geographical studies central to the development of the country.
Geographers are often involved in the planning of different projects where they act in an advisory capacity as a member of a team of specialists. In this way the economic geographer will advise a commission for the promotion of tourism on the utilisation of outlook posts and roads in the surroundings of major nature attractions.
The military geographer will advise the National Defence Force on the practicability of using different kinds of vehicles in a hostile territory. Other geographers provide information on the impact of human activities on the environment and make a contribution to meaningful environmental management and improvement of the quality of life for all people.
Degree: Geography, or Geography and Environmental Studies, can be taken as a major subject for a BA or a BSc degree - all universities. Most universities also make provision for Geography as a major subject for the BA(Ed) and BSc(Ed) teaching degrees, e.g. UNISA. Undergraduate study for these degrees has a duration of 3 years excluding the BA(Ed) and BSc(Ed) degrees which extend over 4 years.
It is expected of prospective geographers that they specialise in postgraduate studies, eg. UZ, UNISA. The supporting major subjects are influenced by the area of specialisation.
During their studies the geographers acquire the skills enabling them to do statistical analysis, mapping and aerial photograph analysis, as well as computer literacy and sometimes geographical information systems (GIS). This gives them increased proficiency in handling environmental problems. At most universities, students are also trained in integrated environmental management procedures (IEM), environmental impact assessment studies (EIA) and environmental auditing (EA).
Society of South African Geographers
PO Box 339
Tel: (051) 401-2184