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Economic pearls before swine

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi

Published Jan 27, 2021


By Pali Lehohla

AT ONE time our sow was on heat and we had to get a boar from another village to meet its biological requirements in order to achieve our economic and food security objectives.

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We got to the village and Ntate Mahomo pointed us to the sty where the boar resided. It took us hours to get the boar out of its sty. It attacked us left and right. We had the tools, a strap and a long stalk. We knew that if you place the stalk around its head, you would easily slide the strap on to its neck. That was the easy part.

But to get the strap under its arm required that as it lifts its front leg forward you needed to slip the strap swiftly under the leg and tighten it. Otherwise the boar would just pull its head and the strap would slide out.

Once we successfully did that we had to open a path on the sty by removing the stones and then have some of us ahead pulling while there had to be one at the back sticking the stalk in the anus of the pig to make it take a leap forward towards us. To get to that point took a number of attempts, but we knew the technique, the path clearance and the tools would work.

Once the boar was out of the sty it fought to get back, but other boys had quickly rebuilt the wall. The time to guide it out of its village was now set and it would attack first one way and then the other. But there was one boy walking ahead, teasing it to attack and attack it did, continuously, and that was in the direction where the ready sow was.

Almost 2km from where she was, the boar established contact with her GPS and the boy was immediately replaced by the self-navigation of the boar. It started galloping ahead and we ran behind it. We could have removed the straps as they served no purpose.

But you do not drop your guard in case the boar’s GPS navigation was to another destination in the village. The boar knew exactly where it had to go and what was in store for it. It got there, wasted no time and had the longest moment of its coupling, fainted and dropped – but not dead. It had what the French call “la petite mort” – the small death.

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What is the moral of the story? Without the tools you cannot get an economy going, without the target that is distinct you cannot even get the path right.

In 1968 my small mates and I had to execute this economic growth – 12 piglets were born out of that union. It took destination, direction, clear tools, skill, determination and a clear goal – a known possibility that there will be piglets whose pork we will partake to get interested and committed.

So when my parents “sent us, we were ready.”

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In 1994 we had the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), and like its successor the National Development Plan (NDP) it was well canvassed and inspired a different South Africa. But when it came to planning and financing it, the RDP was depending on what remained after everything was spent.

Growth, Employment and Redistribution (Gear) was an implementation plan (a neo-liberal frame), but nonetheless an implementation plan of the RDP, when Gear faltered as it would have because of genetic design defects of a trickle down.

Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa (Asgisa) was implemented and then we saw results in economic growth and expansive social expenditure, which was used to attack dirt poverty including certainty of heightened death from hunger if the government would not expand social grants.

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By 2007 an NDP was conceived in the form of macro organisation of the state. Let me make the point that RDP had an explicit implementation plan – Gear and Asgisa – the NDP was born in 2012. The question that you should pose to the National Planning Commission is: did they create an implementation plan? They did not.

Likewise, my question is this: does the review have an implementation plan? It does not – except a rehash in a much shorter report of what was stated in the NDP, only eight years later.

If we cannot have scenarios, quantification of those, a concrete roadmap towards implementation and the tools to do it, we will be trapped in a circular argument.

The NDP and the government neither have tools nor an implementation plan equivalent to Gear, now discredited with a death nail in its coffin that was recently released by Allen Hirsch (who used to be in the engine room) in a journal titled “A fatal Embrace".

So over eight years the NPC could not come up with an implementation plan and now we have a regurgitation of the NDP.

Let us not be deceived by the desperation of doing a few things. Systems design and design thinking is not an out from doing a few things. It is instead about immersion in the science of how things work and quantification of effects and impacts.

When you understand their relational effects then you can handle a few levers because you fully understand how the effects reverberate throughout the system. Without that, a few things to be done is nothing other than a fatal embrace.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa. Meet him at and @palilj01


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