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In memory of Thabiso and Ayanda Tlelai, tenacious and generous

Pali Lehohla is the former statistician-general of South Africa and former head of Statistics South Africa. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi

Pali Lehohla is the former statistician-general of South Africa and former head of Statistics South Africa. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi

Published Nov 8, 2020

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Dr Pali Lehohla

After months without rain, a good part of the country received torrents on Sunday. The downpour was very much welcomed.

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In Warden, in the Free State, the torrents paved a tragic path to a couple that perished in an accident. Thabiso Tlelai and his wife Ayanda left three souls orphaned.

The Tlelai family were an accomplished business couple with operations in Lesotho, their country of origin, and here in South Africa.

At the memorial service on Friday, the Tlelais were remembered for their friendship, generosity and tenacity. I have often communed with the family and experienced the friendship that Thabiso embued, and his business acumen.

But, more importantly, it was his concern for development. He always had a good laugh at himself in some of the difficult business ventures he undertook.

Once he told me of how he could not see his way out of a business partnership with a Jewish businessman. The arrangement gave him latitude to procure from anywhere he wished provided he gave his Jewish partner an opportunity to bid. With an infectious laugh he said all bids went to the partner.

He asked the question what should be done. Perhaps it was this observation and the question he posed that propelled him in partnering fully with fellow black farmers and succeeded in being counted among successful businessmen. He is also a developmental individual.

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I recall in 2016 he called on an important matter of statistics. He arranged a meeting between then Lesotho prime minister Phakalitha Mosilili and I observed matters of statistics. Discussions went into statistics in development, the role of the population census, constituency delimitation and how I could work on helping Lesotho with its statistics.

This remains an unfinished business. As a family-focused person he always encouraged us to come together and so many times as we did the discussion, he would run wild into years of high school, growing up, and not much about business and of course how Lesotho can develop.

His late father was equally a community person and a successful businessman who had a stint in prison during the political state of emergency in Lesotho in 1970. After his release he continued his business where he left it and became a prominent Mosotho businessman.

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It is said that this generosity of spirit led him to building a house for former prime minister, Ntsu Mokhehle the founding father of the Basotho Congress Party and a bosom friend to old Tlelai. May the souls of Thabiso and Ayanda rest in peace and may their orphans be consoled.

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

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