A trea­sured as­set that con­tin­ues to shed light on the health of South Africa

The Star Early Edition - - BUSINESS REPORT - Pali Le­hohla Dr Pali Le­hohla is South African Statis­ti­cian Gen­eral and Head of Sta­tis­tics South Africa.

STA­TIS­TICS South Africa (Stats SA) rightly so has to be con­sid­ered as one of the in­tel­lec­tual hubs of South Africa, a trea­sured as­set of the na­tion that con­tin­ues to shed light on the health of the state. Sta­tis­tics is a cru­cial plan­ning and risk man­age­ment tool, an es­sen­tial life blood for a demo­cratic state, a ci­tadel of for­ti­tude and a con­duit of trust. In pur­suit of this bur­den I would be re­miss if I do not nar­rate the story of build­ing in­tel­lec­tual ca­pa­bil­ity at Stats SA.

Build­ing ca­pac­ity and ca­pa­bil­ity at Stats SA did not come by a sud­den flight, nei­ther was it ephemeral. It came by stay­ing the course. So from July 3 to 5 through the 3rd ISIbalo Cruise, which is an out­fit of Stats SA at the Univer­sity of Stel­len­bosch, we wit­nessed this conference cul­mi­nate into the launch of the Africa Re­gional Sci­ence As­so­ci­a­tion at the Cen­tre for Re­gional and Ur­ban In­no­va­tion and Statistical Ex­plo­ration (Cruise) at the Univer­sity of Stel­len­bosch.

Ben­e­fi­cial in­vest­ment

It is here that af­ter 16 years of try­ing hard to get the train­ing off the ground, Pro­fes­sor Geyer, the di­rec­tor of Cruise, and I, as the Statis­ti­cian-Gen­eral of South Africa, agreed that an out­fit for train­ing Stats SA staff in re­gional sci­ence would be the most ben­e­fi­cial in­vest­ment for im­ple­ment­ing na­tional plan­ning. So in 2011 Cruise opened its doors ex­clu­sively to Stats SA staff, but sub­se­quently many are now at Cruise and Stats SA Mas­ters stu­dents are in the mi­nor­ity.

To­mor­row at the home of Stats SA, ISIbalo House in Pre­to­ria, Stats SA will host the 12th Conference of the Pop­u­la­tion As­so­ci­a­tion of South Africa, (Pasa). This conference is dif­fer­ent from pre­vi­ous ones and it is in­deed com­ing of age, both in­tel­lec­tu­ally and in terms of diver­sity of sub­jects as well as in the back­grounds of the par­tic­i­pants.

The his­tory of the dis­ci­pline of pop­u­la­tion stud­ies and de­mog­ra­phy in South Africa is ter­ri­bly che­quered and con­tin­ues to be chal­lenged. This Pasa conference at­tests to this pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ment.

Es­tab­lished in 1987 by a group of de­mog­ra­phers, among them Pro­fes­sors Sadie, Mostert, Oosthuizen, Hofmeyer, Van Ton­der, Van Heer­den et al, it was ex­clu­sively white and male. Dr Pre­ston-White was the odd fe­male in this “white boys only club.”

Tu­ition had to be sup­ported by an as­so­ci­a­tion and the De­mo­graphic As­so­ci­a­tion of South Africa (Demsa) was formed in in the same year. It had its in­clu­sive inau­gu­ral conference in Stel­len­bosch and was hosted by Stel­len­bosch Farm­ers Winer­ies.

I re­mem­ber dis­tinctly that Dr Wole Adeg­boyega, Dr Chimere Dan, the two Nige­ri­ans, Dr Ma­rina Xaba-Mokuena based in the Transkei Med­i­cal School and I from Bo­phuthatswana were the only black peo­ple in this al­most all-white af­fair.

In the first 10 years of its be­ing, Demsa showed bad cracks which ex­pressed them­selves across racial lines. In the ab­sence of qual­i­fied black de­mog­ra­phers in South Africa, the Demsa jour­nal only car­ried white au­thors. But more im­por­tantly the white de­mog­ra­phy pro­fes­sors were not get­ting younger ei­ther.

There were also clear racial tensions among staff at the Univer­sity of Pre­to­ria be­tween for­eign black pro­fes­sors and white lo­cal pro­fes­sors.

Pro­fes­sor van Heer­den, the leader of the De­mog­ra­phy school at the Univer­sity of Pre­to­ria, had can­cer and met his early death in 1987. He was re­placed by Pro­fes­sor Oosthuizen, who also met his un­timely death in what was con­sid­ered a rou­tine op­er­a­tion. Pro­fes­sor Sadie had re­tired ear­lier from Stel­len­bosch and had also passed on. Pro­fes­sor Mostert had re­tired.

The project at Tukkies sub­se­quently col­lapsed. Those who were at Tukkies, like Pro­fes­sor Van Aardt, moved on to Unisa to start a new de­mog­ra­phy out­fit, where they were joined by Pro­fes­sor Udjo, a well pub­lished pro­fes­sor, who served for quite a while at Stats SA. Dr Phillips and Pro­fes­sor Van Ton­der left for Stats SA as well.

In the mean­time other out­posts such as the Univer­sity of the North West un­der Pro­fes­sor Sabiti, Wits un­der Pro­fes­sor Odimego, UKZN un­der Pro­fes­sor Ju­lian May, and UWC un­der Pro­fes­sor Robert Shell tried with vari­able suc­cess in build­ing ca­pac­ity for tu­ition in de­mog­ra­phy at this in­sti­tu­tions. It was too thin and dis­persed to make an im­pact.

Ugly road

The road has there­fore been ugly for de­mog­ra­phy in South Africa and this sad chap­ter de­serves a sep­a­rate write-up some­time. As a con­se­quence of all this and the racialised na­ture that stalked Demsa, it fi­nally folded as the par­al­lel Pasa struc­ture was cre­ated.

Pasa was not dressed in glory ei­ther, as it fal­tered for a long pe­riod of time with a lot of sub­stan­dard prac­tices and poorly struc­tured in­tel­lec­tual work.

In 2005 I re­call when our bench at the DBSA con­sisted of all for­eign-born de­mog­ra­phers, in­clud­ing my­self, and I ar­gued to my col­leagues that it was not to be found in any of our African coun­tries that this would be the case. I asked Udjo, Bah, Odimego, Keko­v­ole and I to set our­selves a tar­get for change.

I re­peated this mes­sage at Pasa six years later that as Africans we shall be suc­cess­ful if only we im­merse our­selves in shap­ing our fu­ture and us­ing the data we have. That change has come.

At this Pasa conference held at ISIbalo House, there are 157 pa­pers to be pre­sented. Seventy nine of these are pre­sented by South Africa, with 39 pre­sented by Stats SA staff mem­bers.

There are three im­por­tant point­ers to make in this cru­cial in­tel­lec­tual en­ter­prise, which also car­ries prac­ti­cal ap­pli­ca­tions. First al­most all South African pa­pers are ap­ply­ing data from Stats SA, point­ing to the de­vel­op­ment and rel­e­vance of Stats SA in the coun­try.

Se­cond and im­por­tantly, the Univer­sity of Transkei where Dr Ma­rina XabaMokuena was a dean 23 years ago, has quite a num­ber of pa­pers that are fo­cus­ing not only on South Africa at the na­tional level but are ad­dress­ing both pro­vin­cial and lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal­ity chal­lenges in OR Tambo.


And third a good num­ber of pa­pers by Stats SA ap­ply spa­tial analysis. This puts paid the ben­e­fits ac­crued from Cruise in de­mo­graphic analysis.

Another heart-warm­ing de­vel­op­ment is that the 12th Pasa Conference has man­aged to be at­tended by 13 other coun­tries, with staff from uni­ver­si­ties and sta­tis­tics of­fices. These in­clude Nige­ria, Ghana, Malawi, Botswana, Le­sotho, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Swazi­land, Uganda, Zim­babwe, Burk­ina Faso and In­dia.

The qual­ity of pa­pers if this is any­thing to go by is a se­ri­ous pre­cur­sor to Stats SA’s host­ing of the 28th In­ter­na­tional Union for the Sci­en­tific Study of Pop­u­la­tion later in Cape Town from Oc­to­ber 29 to Novem­ber 4 this year.

The jour­ney of build­ing in­tel­lec­tual as­sets of pop­u­la­tion data and sta­tis­tics, build­ing the de­mog­ra­phy and pop­u­la­tion stud­ies as a dis­ci­pline and cre­at­ing sup­port­ing mech­a­nisms for it to thrive in South Africa, was as much lit­tered by the tur­bu­lence of strug­gle and fought through sin­gle mind­ed­ness of build­ing Sta­tis­tics South Africa as it is a tale of the trans­for­ma­tion chal­lenges of South Africa.

This story of over­com­ing the fail­ing and frag­ile de­mog­ra­phy and pop­u­la­tion stud­ies as a dis­ci­pline is there­fore not far re­moved from the ques­tion of ad­dress­ing our cur­rently chal­lenged so­cial, eco­nomic, phys­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal or­der of our na­tional demo­cratic revo­lu­tion.


Min­is­ter in the Presidency Jeff Radebe and Statis­ti­cian-Gen­eral Pali Le­hohla at the of­fi­cial open­ing of the ISIbalo House (Stats SA) in Sal­vokop, Pre­to­ria in this file photo. Stats SA is an in­tel­lec­tual hub, says the writer.

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