Dr Pali Lehohla - Statistician General of SA. Photo: Jacques Naude
Dr Pali Lehohla - Statistician General of SA. Photo: Jacques Naude

OPINION: A tribute to a true ’consummate intellectual’

By Opinion Time of article published Oct 18, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG - The passing of Dr Vuyo Mahlati is a tragic loss that has amplified the magnitude of the deep crisis the country faces on multiple fronts.

Mahlati’s life was wholesome. It spanned struggles in education, gender, children, art, economy, politics, tradition, land, fashion, identities, ethics and panhumanism.

She was a consummate intellectual. In 2008, I met Mahlati in Limpopo at a post office function where Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) was showcasing the programme for assigning addresses for communities who did not have them.

We were so animated in our discussions on how these physical addresses would eliminate the scandal of invisibility for the marginalised.

Eight years later in June 2016 Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng passed a scathing judgement on how the lack of addresses undermined democracy, giving the IEC 18 months to resolve this.

Sadly, the addresses remain unaddressed. Mahlati recurring theme was the space economy of apartheid and how it had to be undone.

A quick scroll down the memory lane of interactions in meetings, telephone conversations, emails, social media and opinion pieces glows intense radiation of who she was and what stood for.

Our engagements propelled Stats SA to establish the Centre for Regional and Urban Innovation and Statistical Exploration at the University of Stellenbosch in 2010.

The quality of work that the country prides itself emanates from this innovation.

In her struggle to advance food production by small farmers, Mahlati was on my case to produce a farmers database including running an agriculture census. Only commercial agriculture was covered.

Mahlat’s doctoral thesis discussed Marula and its industrial production in Phalaborwa. Her argument was that his would be important for agricultural parks that are close to production.

In July she asked me to be part of the SA Women in Dialogue’s transdisciplinary study group to respond to the Covid-19 food parcels crisis.

Unbeknown to me she even assigned me a lead position which she circulated amongst members. The transdisciplinary study report has a deadline of November.

Her passing makes our resolve to deliver the report even more urgent. It is this specific question of How Long that Gipson Kente drove through theatre that haunts us today – How Long? Mahalti the eternal activist concerned with the scandal of invisibility of the poor and poverty reminds us.

May Her Soul Rest In Peace and her family that she never stopped talking about be consoled.

Dr Lehohla is the former Statistician General of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa

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