“In this profession, your credibility is your only real asset.” (Sonnenberg, 2003)

Steven Sonnenberg (2003): Professionalism in Geoscience. The Professional Geologist, January/February 2003, 27-30.

Professionalism in the Geosciences rests upon three pillars namely; Registration, Professional Norms and Behaviour and Continuing Professional Development.

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Registration in the Geosciences, as practised in South Africa, is an internationally normalised practice involving two separate, but closely related organisations, namely the South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions (SACNASP1) and the Geological Society of South Africa (GSSA2). For engineers, the statutory body is the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA3) and the professional body is the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (SAIMM4). For surveyors, the relevant bodies are the South African Geomatics Council (SAGC5) and the Institute for Mine Surveyors of South Africa (IMSSA).

Registration is, in essence, a process whereby the qualifications of an applicant are confirmed to be true, valid and relevant to the field of practice specified. SACNASP registers all Natural Science practitioners within South Africa. It is illegal to practice as a geologist within South Africa unless registered with SACNASP. Fundamental to this registration is a process of registration in terms of the Natural Scientific Professions Act whereby qualifications and experience are evaluated. Registration can be in one of the following categories depending upon qualifications and experience: Candidate (entry level) Certificated or Professional. Geoscientists are registered within the Fields of Practice of Geological Science or Earth Science. The public are able to confirm the registration and Field of Practice of a scientist by means of accessing the SACNASP website. There is no professional practice examination currently required for statutory or professional registration purposes in South Africa.

Statutory Registration with SACNASP and ECSA and professional membership of the SAIMM/GSSA is recognised by International organisations such as CRIRSCO, as acceptable registration for purposes of Competency as regards Resource and Reserve Reporting. This currently represents the most common and successful application of the Professionalism regime in South Africa.

Professional Ethics

Professional norms and behaviour are measured against a Code of Ethics by the GSSA, the SAIMM and by a Code of Conduct by SACNASP and ECSA. Each organisation has a Complaints and Disciplinary System (sub-committees) which investigate and rule on complaints brought to them by the public at large and by fellow professionals. These processes allow for confidentiality, separation and independence of investigative and ethics ruling stages, as well as appeal processes. Sanctions range, depending on the severity of the breach, from simple admonishment to de-registration, expulsion and the possible loss of the right to practice.

Some of the professional/ethical issues related to CP/CV’s are:

  1. Only write reports for which you are qualified.
    The SAMREC Code defines “Competence” and “Responsibility” in clauses 7-11 (see also Clause 2.1.3 in SAMVAL and Clause 2 in SAMOG). Anyone writing a report in terms of any of the SAMCODES must satisfy themselves that they are competent in terms of these clauses. In addition, they need to be able to satisfy their peers that they are competent as well.
  2. Conflicts of Interest
    There are a number of areas where CP/CVs could experience conflicts of interest and the professional will try and avoid even the smallest hint of impropriety. One of the areas that is seldom thought of is the conflict that may arise between the interests of the client/employer and the public interest. In the case of a perceived (but not real) conflict of interest, the CP/CV should acknowledge the apparent perception and explain it up-front.
  3. Don’t take on work within an unrealistically constrained environment.
    One issue often identified is that the brief from the client may have aggressive timelines but limited budgets. Even given some tight constraints, some companies/individuals will accept commissions, but have to compromise on the extent and quality of work done. The result is incomplete reporting, even misrepresentation.

CP/CVs need to be aware of the scope of the work and make sure that they spec it in terms of time and budget etc. and consider carefully the implications of not doing this with due consideration. They should also be aware that to under-spec a proposal in terms of time/cost and, subsequently, have to add time and cost to the project to make it commercial, is not considered ethical. While probably guaranteeing that the individual obtains the contract, it does not necessarily lead to the best outcome, for the consultant or the project owner.

It is well appreciated that individuals may feel that their financial circumstances are such that work under less than ideal circumstances is better than no work at all. However, it is important to realise that it is the CP/CV who has to face the disciplinary procedures of the relevant professional/statutory body, which may result in one or other sanction which may include de-registration and the possible loss of right to practice. It may also result in the failure of the project and even bring the entire geoscientific community into disrepute.

Continuing Professional Development (CPD)

SACNASP, ECSA and SAGC manage a CPD system and promote career long development as an imperative. Currently, the professional/learned societies have a CPD system that is simply a matter of voluntary log keeping, as it is with many such systems around the globe. The four categories that have been identified for professional development activities by the GSSA are Formal Learning, Knowledge Contribution, Self-directed Study and Informal Learning. This brings the system in line with established practice in numerous overseas geoscience associations.

SACNASP, under the terms of the Natural Professions Act of 2003 is required to register professionals in the field of natural science. Equally important is the requirement to renew their professional registration. In light of this SACNASP has developed and implemented a fully-fledged CPD system. CPD is essential for a scientist to remain relevant and up to date in their specific field of practice. This means that professionals must complete CPD activities over a 5-year cycle to stay compliant and to renew their professional registration (

However, the SACNASP system differs somewhat from the geoscience-focused four category system used by the GSSA.Because of these differences, and the risk that there could be two separate, and potentially incompatible, CPD system operating simultaneously, the GSSA and SACNASP have been engaged in a process of negotiation to find a mutually acceptable and simplified system.

On 14 September 2017, a Memorandum of Agreement between GSSA and SACNASP was signed, allowing for the recognition by SACNASP of the GSSA system and governing the transfer of records, auditing etc. Consequently, if a member of the GSSA can demonstrate adherence to the GSSA system, then SACNASP will accept that in compliance of CPD requirements.