Statistician-general Dr Pali Lehohla
Why is the sex ratio so important in the matter of gender? Although at birth more male than female babies are born, in the general population, females are in the majority the world over.

Left to nature, these numbers remain so, with the exception of China, where the sex ratio (which is the number of males per 100 females), tips in favour of males in the general population, because of the imposition of a strict one-child policy for partners for almost 40 years.

Given that there is always a higher probability to conceive a boy than a girl in an environment where there is only one chance of conception and delivery, males are likely to be predominant.

After the Chinese Population Census of 2010, I was invited with seven others from outside China in 2012 to participate in an expert meeting on the implications of the Chinese population numbers on their development trajectory for their next five-year development plan.

At the end of the session, the national experts concluded that they would advise the politburo in favour of a two-child policy in the five-year plan. Sex ratio plays an important role in gender statistics and ensuing equity policies.

Despite more males being born, a higher mortality for males is experienced. It is perhaps unfounded gender stereotyping that women are the weaker sex. Women live longer than men. And in South Africa, women have a life expectancy of about six years above that of males. Females constitute 52 percent of the population against 48 percent of males.

The study of populations opens up the subject of gender implications for the economy, social arrangements and politics.


It was difficult to resist an invitation from North West's government, because that was where I worked in the statistics office from 1983.

It was from there that with Professor Akiiki Kahimbaara and Professor Manie Geyer, we shaped the thoughts that we followed, with directed and concrete actions, in answering the question of what statistics in post-apartheid South Africa should be like. This was deep visioning.


So, when I got invited to participate in a lekgotla by the then premier of North West, Edna Molewa, I could not hesitate to rush to Mahikeng where I was privileged to be a beneficiary of profound insights from none other than Dr Ruth Mompati on matters of gender.

In 1946, the Commission on the Status of Women was established by the UN. In 2010, UN Women was established. It is currently led by the former deputy president of South Africa, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, who is its executive director.

The UN Commission on the Status of Women is a UN intergovernmental body dedicated to empower women and achieve gender equality.

On matters of gender, South Africa could not be more proud as it serves at this high office. But the path to gender equality is snared with hurdles that are subtle and nefarious. Back at this meeting in Mahikeng at the Tusk Hotel, formally Mmabatho Sun, I had the privilege of sitting next to and having lunch with the legendary and late Dr Mompati of the ANC.

Although the lekgotla of the premier was not about gender, over lunch however, we covered several topics. One of these was related by Dr Mompati, who was on the then nascent journey of equal representation between men and women in the ANC.

It was clear that apartheid's days were numbered and the ANC in exile was soon to be back home, yet the question of women and gender equality had not been discussed. So, they as women, approached the then president of the ANC, the late OR Tambo, about what was to become of them.

OR convened a meeting where he tabled the women’s question. Dr Mompati said the men were rather dismissive and astonished by this question and their answer was: Why should this question arise?

It was not important. OR’s retort was women are correct, they should answer this question. What is going to happen to these women when they get home? The men argued that obviously women were women and would do what women do.

And OR remarked that it cannot be that women are compatriots in the war of liberation and then expected to be in the kitchen when they got back home.


While women won this case and gender equality became a policy decision, Dr Mompati albeit appearing to be saying this in jest, lamented much more seriously: “The system is being abused. Men through manipulation, front women for their own political gain. This was especially rife at local government level".

Manipulation is an act of political and economic opportunism that condemns society to irreparable damage with all kinds of invisible strings influencing coincidence of victimhood and benefit. Unravelling such opportunism is a revolutionary act and the art of political liberation.

In the case of South Africa and its neighbour Lesotho, the coincidence of victimhood and benefit was illustrated in the tale of the plot involving Paramount Chief Griffith Lerotholi of Lesotho (1913-1939), the then prime minister Barry Hertzog, mothers-in-law, sons, farmers and mine owners.

The setting is the geo-politics of Lesotho and South Africa and their economic interrelatedness. Harold Wolpe, Martin Legassick and Ben Magubane elaborate on a similar phenomenon focusing on capital, apartheid, homelands and administrative agency. They provide an insightful analytical framework.

Chief Lerotholi was persuaded by the mothers-in-law who spoke on their own and their migrant sons’ behalf, who saw their daughters-in-law as rebellious for escaping to urban centres in South Africa.


The chief is said to have written to Hertzog asking him not to allow Basotho women to come to South Africa’s industrial hub, as the place was unsafe and had no accommodation for women.

While clearly, the chief was concerned about Basotho women's livelihoods, he actually played into the hands of the minority regime. In this regard the real victims on the one hand were the chief, mothers-in-law, husbands and daughters-in-law, while on the other hand the real beneficiaries were Hertzog, the mining houses and the farm-owners.

These state, commercial, household-cum-family and individual interests, divergent as they were, clubbed together against daughters-in-law. The appearance of this socio-political superstructure, which is a hallmark of exceptionalism of South Africa’s capitalist development, masked the emergent capitalist relations of production that created and redefined the new relations of production and the regional functions between the hinterland and urban centres.

Some scholars called this unfolding phenomenon dualism or coexistence of two modes of production. Wolpe critiquing and dismissing dualism as an interpretation of the economics of colonialism and apartheid, in a separate thesis with Legassick and Magubane, shed light on the interconnectedness of apartheid to capitalism and the deceptive geo-political superstructure that presided over the geopolitics of the centre and the periphery.

So, why does gender matter? I have illustrated how parochial and patriarchal practices in their ubiquitous and deceptive tentacles victimise women over a period of time. Females, and women in particular, have had to endure regional struggles of discrimination both by communal, traditional and capitalist practices under settler colonialism, apartheid, while in exile, these gender stereotypes did not necessarily abate.

The task of the UN Commission on the status of women in country democratisation processes are far from being victorious when they are not engendered by the experiences and teachings of OR Tambo.

Dr Pali Lehohla is South Africa’s statistician- general and head of Statistics SA.