Pali Lehohla
Pali Lehohla

Inside Statistics: Boks victory shows that heights are not impossible to reach

By Pali Lehohla Time of article published Nov 5, 2019

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JOHANNESBURG – Amid the ashes of South African dreams, the Boks victory again raised our hopes and demonstrated that if we unite we can overcome all obstacles.

The victory of the mighty Springboks made us proud and reminded us of the path Madiba was leading the nation on. In 1994, emerging from apartheid, the country was sparked by a joint hope, driven by leadership integrity, ethical probity and societal wills, which led us to believe we could reach great heights.

Have we kept the heights that Madiba and his compatriots led us to reach?

Madiba said “it is in your hands now”, but instead we eagerly squeezed whatever it was and killed it. We killed the dream…

It is in this context that the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow ring true. The poet said: “The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.” 

Not only does this quotation remind me of my father who would be shepherding us to the fields early, but it also reminds me of a Van der Merwe joke.

Van der Merwe was enjoying whisky with colleagues in Scotland. A Scotsman, a Canadian and an American each toasted to their most venerable symbols of their societies.

The Scot toasted the Highlands of Scotland, the Canadian the prairies of Canada, and the American the stripes and stars of America. Van der Merwe was brief – he only said Springbok, much to the amazement of the trio who poked fun at him. 

Amid the ashes of South African dreams, the Boks victory again raised our hopes and demonstrated that if we unite we can overcome all obstacles. Photo: Supplied

Later Van der Merwe would unleash his venom – but here modified for readership – “Yes, Springbok I said – it will jump over the highlands of Scotland, ‘sweat’ over the prairies of Canada and wipe its ‘body’ on the stars and stripes of America.” 

So this is what the Springboks have done with elegance again, proving that heights are not impossible to reach, but only for those while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night – the Springboks. 

The glory of the Boks inspired us to reach great heights against all odds. Does the same opportunity arise from the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS)?

Moody’s was not impressed with the Mini-Budget and neither was Ian Edwards, a partner and Africa manager at Austen Morris Associates, who said: “There isn’t a single reason to keep your investments in South Africa.” This is a severe indictment as we tried to put our best foot forward. Of course many have commented on the draft to the MTBPS and to the now actual MTBPS delivered on Wednesday. 

There is little difference between the initial document and the final draft, with minor tweaks. That the document has not changed suggests that the acknowledged 800 or so contributions by South Africans affirmed the position of the paper by the National Treasury, which is a sign of consensus. 

The paper is a cause for worry, as it delivers to South Africa a rising debt-to-GDP (gross domestic product) ratio by 2021 from the current levels, it increases the number of unemployed South Africans to 14 million, which is 4 million more than the current 10 million South Africans projected to be unemployed by 2030. 

This number of the unemployed is not explicitly stated, instead it is implied in the document’s promise of only generating a mere 1 million jobs in 10 years. This was also stated in the State of the Nation Address. Manufacturing as a contributor to GDP will remain at current proportions, despite whatever will be done on that front, and mining will be contributing a reduced share. The GDP growth will be 3.7 percent to 4.7 percent. 

But the paper is mum on poverty and inequality. How then does this match the spirit of the Boks? It simply does not. Our hopes can only be short-lived – 80 minutes of great excitement is all we can have. Chasing debt is a bad strategy for stimulating growth.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former statistician-general of South Africa, and the former head of Statistics South Africa. Meet him on or @PaliLehohla


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