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The real numbers: Coronavirus has a rule of terror over humanity

Pali Lehohla

Pali Lehohla

Published Apr 26, 2020


JOHANNESBURG - The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) bring people, the planet and prosperity together.

But a monster has challenged this equation and caged humanity behind closed doors.

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Pangolins and bats, the animals said to be carriers 
of the coronavirus have been more effective than Pol Pot who introduced a rule of terror in Cambodia in pursuit of a self-styled Communist rule.

He killed intellectuals, decimated technology and religion and set the clock to Year Zero.  

Today, we are seized with what the world would look like post the pandemic.

We need not look further.

In 1918, South Africa 
lost 300 000 people to the Spanish Flu.

Today, we have technological advances to engage in deep conversations that question our pursuits.

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Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy established the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi Commission to probe how the wealth and social progress of a nation could be measured without relying on the uni-dimensional gross domestic product (GDP) measure.

The commission was established in February 
2008 ahead of the global financial crisis.

Statisticians measure things by looking into 
the rear mirror of the statistical vehicle.

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They have placed the bat and the pangolin at the centre of measurement when they at the turn of the 21st century contemplated measuring natural capital.  

Let us recall that the anchor of GDP is a production function of 
labour and capital which leaves natural capital accounting.  

At the 100th anniversary of social entrepreneurship 
in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 2018, the SDGs played the centre stage in questioning  our production and consumption systems.

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The Maori delegate asked questions that had nothing novel about them because they and other first nations like the Khoi and the San understood how coexistence with nature is.  

They have coexisted with the bat and the pangolin without causing them to emit virulent viruses.

What we may then learn from this is that coronavirus is not novel after all as long as we take heed of the SDGs and learn from nations like the Maoris.  

We do not need to resort to Pol Pot’s Year Zero or return to capitalist market fundamentalism.  

Let us coexist with nature – the bat and the pangolin.

Pali Lehohla is the former statistician-general of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa.


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