There is power in the num­bers

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - FEATURES - THE REAL NUM­BERS Pali Le­hohla

SOUTH Africans have be­come more de­mand­ing for re­sults and ac­count­abil­ity, which is a good sign for democ­racy.

But the pat­tern of de­mands has be­come in­creas­ingly com­mon among vol­un­tary or­gan­i­sa­tions, where mem­bers some­times re­sort to violence to vent their anger and frus­tra­tion at the lack of re­sults.

For ex­am­ple, the coach and play­ers of Kaizer Chiefs Foot­ball Club re­cently had to run for cover when frus­trated sup­port­ers went on the ram­page against them.

What is in­ter­est­ing about the be­hav­iour for de­mand­ing re­sults is that the sup­port­ers are not nec­es­sar­ily ir­ra­tional. They have cer­tain ex­pec­ta­tions. The high­est of these ex­pec­ta­tions is win­ning tro­phies.

But even if the club brings no sil­ver­ware, at the min­i­mum there is an ex­pec­ta­tion that they should end in the top four in the league.

But when a club, the stature of Kaizer Chiefs, slides to lower rungs of the lad­der, then sure the sup­port­ers find a strong jus­ti­fi­ca­tion to rebel against both the play­ers, the coach and the lead­er­ship of the club, de­mand­ing re­sults.

The Or­lando Pi­rates sup­port­ers have re­acted sim­i­larly, while also dam­ag­ing in­fra­struc­ture.

The world of sports, es­pe­cially that of soc­cer, teaches us a les­son about democ­racy, ac­count­abil­ity and the pow­er­ful voice of the vol­un­teer­ing sup­port­ers. Like sports, the cul­ture of de­mand­ing re­sults and press­ing for ac­count­abil­ity has al­ways been vis­i­bly ar­tic­u­lated in mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties through ser­vice de­liv­ery protests and in­creas­ingly within po­lit­i­cal par­ties where mat­ters of­ten get to the courts.

Even there the path re­gret­tably is of­ten vi­o­lent and limb and life sadly are not spared.

What then are the lessons for pol­i­tics?

In pre­par­ing for Cen­sus 2011 the com­mu­nity of Sil­ver­town re­fused to par­tic­i­pate in the cen­sus. Their de­mands were for hous­ing and bet­ter ser­vices. What took the crown for me was when they de­manded that I should go and fetch their coun­cil­lor from Port El­iz­a­beth. I pointed out that I had no power to do so.

The ne­go­ti­a­tions for a count con­tin­ued un­abated un­til a week into the cen­sus and the res­i­dents of Sil­ver­town would not budge and par­tic­i­pate in the process. This was not the first time that I made this un­equiv­o­cal de­mand on com­mu­ni­ties who were hell bent to­wards not par­tic­i­pat­ing.

In the Cen­sus 1996 the com­mu­nity of Chief Ramopodi in Nebo took us on in sim­i­lar fashion and I in­formed them that in no un­cer­tain terms would I back down and not count them.

This was non-ne­go­tiable and we fi­nally in­cluded them in the ex­er­cise.

An­other com­mu­nity that gave us a run was that of Hanckey in Jef­freys Bay, there too we counted them.

Back to Sil­ver­town, we had dead­locked for the whole day with mul­ti­ple bi-lat­er­als and mul­ti­lat­eral dis­cus­sions tak­ing place.

Two dead­lock break­ers were as fol­lows: First we com­mit­ted to spon­sor­ing high school ma­tric­u­lants into higher ed­u­ca­tion and, sec­ond, that when the re­sults were out, I promised that I would per­son­ally be in Sil­ver­town to de­liver the re­sults.

So the first hur­dle we had was Sil­ver­town did not have a ma­tric­u­lant with univer­sity ex­emp­tion nor with other ter­tiary en­try scores. So the prom­ise was not im­ple­mentable.

I am pleased that this first com­mit­ment was met through tu­tor­ing Sil­ver­town lads and lasses through ex­ams into higher ed­u­ca­tion.

Some of these stu­dents com­pleted their pro­grammes.

Twelve months af­ter the cen­sus, my team and I were back at the MK Hall with the cen­sus re­sults. An ox was slaugh­tered and it was fes­tiv­i­ties all round.

The premier of the prov­ince, the mayor of Port El­iz­a­beth and coun­cil­lors could no longer ig­nore the plight of res­i­dents of Sil­ver­town.

The num­bers had spo­ken.

There is in­deed power in ev­i­dence and even more so ac­tive cit­i­zenry is cru­cial to lead the change re­quired.

Soc­cer fans have shown how ac­count­abil­ity can be de­manded and how re­sults can be achieved. With­out ac­tive de­mand for re­sults and cit­i­zenry led ac­count­abil­ity democ­racy be­comes an en­deav­our in fu­til­ity.

At the FNB Sta­dium in Nas­rec where Kaizer Chiefs and Pi­rates met the wrath of their sup­port­ers, un­der pro­tracted pres­sure from op­po­si­tion benches, cit­i­zenry and busi­ness, in De­cem­ber 2017 the ANC was forced ul­ti­mately to un­der­take the changes when it met at Nas­rec.

There is power in num­bers and there is ra­tio­nal­ity in sci­en­tific ev­i­dence. Let these in­stru­ments be used on a sus­tained ba­sis be­yond the pol­i­tick­ing of next year and elections.


Dr Pali Le­hohla is the for­mer Statis­ti­cianGen­eral of South Africa and the for­mer head of Statis­tics South Africa.

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