The anatomy of a nation through a different lens

Statistics SA provides insights into the anatomy of a nation. They suggest that there is an uneasy intersection and confluence of socio-economic, demographic, biological and economic forces which portend a land and a country at the crossroads.

The Annual Victims of Crime Survey data show that South Africans are violent.

Murder, rape, assault and house burglary are periodically reported upon as remaining relatively high with citizens feeling unsafe in their abodes and in fear of walking on their own at night.

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Statistician-general Dr Pali Lehohla

The Annual Causes of Death Report attests to this system of violence. It advances as it were the evidence on violence through homicides and road accident deaths.

The South African Demographic and Health Survey of 2016 pointed to spousal violence and abuse, obesity, especially amongst women, and stunting amongst children.

And in this regard, four out of every ten for those who are divorced or separated are exposed to the scourge of violent attacks and assault from their partners.

Women in general and those in the highest income quintile are obese, with one in three being obese. Children at ages under 59 months show signs of growing stunting at critical age of 21 months.

The evidence is that a third of the boys are stunted and a quarter of the girls are. Consumption of alcohol amongst males is high and starts at an earlier age and persists into adulthood.

Amongst reasons why they are not in school, for the small proportion who are not, young boys in the General Household Survey say school is useless and young girls say they have family responsibilities.

The Lives of Children Report show that 60 percent of fathers say that they are married against 30 percent of mothers.

This in a population that is of almost equal number of eligibles surely does not pass the muster of sense. One would expect at least an equal number of participants coupling fathers and mothers.


Claims of coupling by fathers is twice that of mothers. A conjugal condition of such disparate numerical proportions can only be true if society practised polygamy and one woman would marry two men on average for this paternal claim to hold true. But we know South Africa is polygamous.

So either the fathers or the mothers are lying. But lying is not the point. The point is what do we understand in this inconsistency for coupling? Perhaps it suggests what is at the heart of our collective and male schizophrenia, especially in child bearing and rearing.

The economic indicators have reflected a growth rate that is below 1 percent for the year past. Unemployment levels in South Africa have remained chronically and exceedingly high, especially amongst the youth. Participation and absorption rates in the labour market have not risen to the pre-2008 economic crisis levels.

Unemployment of graduates from non-university education qualifications in the post-school system is equivalent to those with only matric. It remains chronically high. It thus begs the question of what technical or employment-ready-skills does the technical and vocational education and training and its equivalent deliver.

The proportions in management and skilled position for blacks have remained not only low, but at the age group 24-34 they have regressed in the twenty years from 1994 to 2014 in comparison to those that are overflowing amongst Indians and whites.

The data suggests that if the current is bad for black youth, the future portends worse outcomes for the age group of 15 to 24, which will be 25 to 34 in the next ten years. The Quarterly Labour Force Survey shows emergent trends of a declining proportion and absolute numbers in those who are skilled in the work force in the age group above 55.

Thus the pace of skill reproduction and replacement might not be at a pace required by industry or the rate of growth is too low and thus failing to attract and absorb the required skills.

Progression rates through the university system are painfully slow and the system is constipated, costly and wasteful. This system carries a million students against a maximum possible of 600 000 students, given the rate of university entry passes from matric. An analysis of service delivery protests of 2013 suggests that in large part such protests if driven by lack of services, where they occurred, show high levels of correspondence and thereby suggesting that they could be predicted.

The Living Condition Survey Report shows persistent inequality across races. But importantly it shows that levels of inequality are highest amongst blacks where paradoxically incomes are lowest.

Accelerating contribution

This in and by itself augurs unwell for social cohesion. South Africa's Multidimensional Poverty Index Report has pointed to the accelerating contribution of unemployment as a driver of poverty.

It has grown by almost twice the percentage points it grew in five years in the latter part 2011-2016, compared to what it grew by in the ten years in the earlier period 2001-2011.

So the rate of change for multidimensional poverty has not only doubled, but has almost grown four fold. In the rate of change rests the seed of momentum and difficulty in solving the motive force of poverty as well as its correlates of unemployment and inequality, but importantly its determinants, key amongst which is education.

Rate of change for mitigating poverty in other areas such as water, sanitation, electricity, and asset transfer show successive decreasing marginal returns.

For the future, which is the age group 15 to 34, their key driver of poverty has remained their deprivation to education.

This stands at 35 percent as its contribution to their poverty. Their belonging to households whose members are unemployed, the extent to being not in employment, education and training and limited years of schooling account for almost more than two thirds for their poverty outcomes. Their proportion in the population is not small.

They as a youth of disadvantage contribute more than 60 percent of the unemployed. This evidence shows that a youth bulge inspired demographic dividend in South Africa is impossible, it will not happen.

The window of opportunity has gone past and has long been dusted. Even an adult-inspired dividend is not optimised as more proportionately and in absolute numbers those who are skilled are declining.

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While access to water, sanitation and electricity have increased; while social grants have a bigger coverage, (without which economic, social and political life for this lot would be hell on earth); while life expectancy has increased; while child and infant mortality have decreased; while the number of blacks graduating each year has grown tenfold to almost 50 000 a year; while graduate employment is high and unemployment rates are very low in this category (their number is just a modicum across South Africa as a nation, albeit as a proportion amongst whites they account for almost 40 percent of the relevant age groups); while interest rates have been benign; while there are all these positives, the weight of the factual situation narrated in the preceding paragraph cannot be sustained and largely cannot be enabled by the rickety crutches of positives in the successful extension of social services.

The numbers suggest a spectre of reversal in these gains and this is brought about by the weight of persistent underperformance.

Savage side

The recent chilling killings of Karabo Mokwena and Courtney Pieters, the numbing killing of Sinoxolo Mafevuka in 2016, all of them after they were raped, show the savage side of humanity.

The death of Michael Komape, the primary school boy who died in a cesspit, the recent deaths of twenty school kids in a taxi show deep lapses in plans and planning. Concealed in decks of possibly complicated statistical tables are the faces of Karabo, Courtney, Sinoxolo, Michael and the twenty girls. The narrative above of non-natural deaths robbing young people cover the instruments with which society impuned its own.

Without modelling capability in state planning and thereby foreseeing the future and thus planning for it, the statistics remain simple backward looking facts that only serve to be marvelled at rather than be used.

Our statistical products endeavour to shed light and assist in providing a line of sight into the future for those who are preoccupied with planning. This in a way is to ensure better futures for Karabo, Pieters, Sinoxolo, Komape and the twenty school children against these largely man-made disasters. This is the South Africa I know; the home I understand.

Dr Pali Lehohla is South Africa’s Statistician-General and Head of Statistics South Africa.


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