This challenge has not caught the eye of policy, stark as it is, and responses have been lacklustre – a common feature of frog-boiled South Africa’s policy response for the last 15 or so years.
On October 10, the Statistician-General of South Africa, Risenga Maluleke, released the results of Census 2022. This was the fourth census of the population of South Africa in the post-apartheid era.
It was conducted under exceedingly difficult circumstances of Covid-19. But, also, it introduced serious innovations of digital platforms. There was no longer massive movement of paper to and from. The co-ordination was much tidier, with less manifest friction that paper-based systems can bring about. Census as a massive operation is much noisier when it’s paper-based.
The pun in it, and the fun of it, is like the noise of a tree falling in the forest. Digital census saves trees and removes the noise from the ear and the traffic of people moving up and down the streets.
In 2011, the crime statistics for October were down compared to other October months, showing that visibility of an army of a hundred thousand yellow-clad people in the street was a crime deterrent. Digital census has minimum visibility to the eye. It is visible in the virtual space. The planning, however, in both operations remains quite daunting.
The results revealed that South Africa is now 62 million strong from the 51 million counted in 2011. Statistics SA, the mighty organisation and the fact-finder of the nation, did best what it has been accustomed to – give and give with commitment and excellence. Its part was done. Now we have to deal with the message now that the messenger has done his part.
Oftentimes, the message and the messenger are wrapped in one: spit at if the message is bitter and swallowed with delight when the message is sweet.
An important statistic coming out of this Census is first, that of education and, second, that of undercount.
Over a period of 26 years two data points stand out.
In 1996 the percentage of people aged 20 and above who completed matric was 16% compared to 37% in 2022. This means the percentage more than doubled. This happened in a population that grew by about 50%. By any measure this appears on the face of it as good progress.
However, quite a big number of children who start school drop out before reaching matric, which is a violent betrayal of constitutional expectations and reconstruction and development programme (RDP) imperatives of liberation.
In fact, the numbers show that they have plateaued at an exceptionally low altitude against a mountain of heightening challenges ahead.
The percentages are almost uniform across all races, suggesting therefore, regardless of whites having had an advantage of matriculating under apartheid, other races have caught up with them in the percentage of those with matric. In fact, Indians are now performing better than whites at this level, reaching almost 50% and six percentage points above whites.
The gory revelation, however, the figures show is in the progression to completing post-school education. In this regard, blacks and coloureds are fossilised at the 1996 level, growing at most by a mere percentage point from 8% to 9% over 26 years. While Indians stood at more than double the rate of blacks and coloureds, whites were five times the rate of blacks and coloureds and twice that of Indians.
South Africa has not provided enough opportunity nor accelerated this opportunity in the past 30 or so years for blacks and coloureds. A one percentage point increase over 26 years implies a rate of change is 0.005 per annum – a pace far slower than that of a snail. This pace could be far slower than even that which former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe ridiculed of the Israeli pilgrimage of 40 miles over millennia from Egypt to Israel.
This challenge has not caught the eye of policy, stark as it is, and responses have been lacklustre – a common feature of frog-boiled South Africa’s policy response for the last 15 or so years. This be it on energy, infrastructure, education, crime and all. Everything is far from the National Development Plan.
The undercount is and could be a matter of concern if you compared it with Sassa coverage of distribution of social grants. It would be even more grievous if you did not get your grant as a Sassa recipient because you could face hunger and morbidity. Mortality could be a certain outcome.
It is also true that if you do not get counted, you would feel the omission personally. When many of you have not been counted, you will sing a song about it and the chorus would condemn the census.
Unlike a Sassa grant missed, in the census there is a statistical compensation mechanism for being omitted or being double-counted. It is called a post-enumeration survey (PES).
It is a statistical procedure by which you revisit a sample of the households physically. It is run independently of the census, and the information is reconciled as those counted in the census and in the PES, those missed in the census but counted in the PES, those counted in the census but missed in the PES, and those missed in both the PES and the census.
Through an analysis of this matrix of four outcomes the under count or double count (the latter is a very rare event) are imputed and compensated for in the imputation. The domains of reporting are then estimated for precision. For example, at what level of geography can these be presented and be representative of what is measured.
The messenger has delivered a clear and statistically truthful message, advising wards, municipalities, district municipalities, provinces and the country at large. What remains is that those elected to run state affairs through this raft of revealing evidence run state affairs on this evidence.
Dr Pali Lehohla is the director of the Economic Modelling Academy, a Professor of Practice at the University of Johannesburg, a research associate at Oxford University, a board member of Institute for Economic Justice at Wits and a distinguished alumnus of the University of Ghana. He is the former Statistician-General of South Africa.