Stats SA walks the tightrope on stats and race and as the lack of funds bites

The Statistician-General of South Africa Risenga Maluleke.File picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency(ANA)

The Statistician-General of South Africa Risenga Maluleke.File picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Sep 26, 2023


Statistician-General (SG) Risenga Maluleke had his back against the ropes in Parliament last week on the definition of races as classified by Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), which was described as not compatible with line departments, leading to misunderstanding in the reading of data such as unemployment and poverty landscapes.

Economic Freedom Fighters MP Mzwanele Manyi took umbrage with the Stats SA definition of Black as Black, Coloured and Indian whereas the employment equity Act and Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) legislation defined all three as one category.

Manyi called an alignment of the definition as used by government line departments and that used by Stats SA so the categories were clear instead of having Blacks and Africans as a separate category.

“I am African, I reject the notion of Black African, I am not Black. I advise the SG not to be overly defensive. The comments we give are well founded. I am an African. We have a democratic rule of law. He must be using the reference in the primary legislation,” Manyi said.

Maluleke told the Portfolio Committee on Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation that the issue was extremely emotive in that all race groups had their own perspectives on how they wanted to be referred to.

He said through consultations in previous censuses, in the 1996, 2001, 2011 and 2022, the matter has not been sufficiently settled as there were complaints, Blacks wanting the African input, Coloureds rejecting being classed as Khoi San, the Khoi San rejecting all categorisation claiming that everyone is Khoi San.

“We have had not less than 10 delegations at Stats SA in the past 24 months, predominantly of the coloured objecting to being classified as Khoi San. You all know about the extended sit-in outside the Union Buildings by the Khoi San. We have had the Portuguese saying they are fine with being classed as White, but they want the Portuguese included. The Blacks are saying why should they be classified at all, why can't Whites be classified as Europeans then. It is a very emotive issue that is frankly beyond Stats SA and needs a national debate,” Maluleke said.


Maluleke also took body blows on the proposed amendments to the tabled Statistics Amendment Bill on which he proposed that the census period be extended from intervals of five years as was the case to 10-year intervals to allow for more efficient collating of the information for planning.

Last week Maluleke said he would be announcing the 2022 Census results on October 10.

MPs generally opposed this saying there were too many developments in the population that needed to be recorded regularly, including the influx of foreign migrants who still needed to use local resources.

Maluleke said the StatsSA office had long been hamstrung by the lack of funds to execute its full mandate, pointing out that National Treasury was unwilling to shell out the R3 billion required to do a census every time.

“It means we are in contravention of the act as of now because we conduct our census every five years … Best international practice in China and elsewhere allows for the census to be conducted every 10 years,” Maluleke argued.

He said the census took a lot of manpower for a long time during and after the event to tally the numbers which affected the work of the office in other categories as it had more than 270 products to supply to the country.

He said the last Poverty Survey figures the office was using was from 2013 because “when there is no money there is not much you can do about what you have to do”.

He said the StatsSA office also had to be cautious about maintaining its independence and was wary of donor funds because the funder could distort the mandate.