JOHANNESBURG - An Afrikaner intellectual has fallen. Professor David Stoker, a leading African figure in survey sampling methodology joined the ancestors on Wednesday at 89.
His career was colourful. But as the Bapedi would say “Khaka kholo se na mabala, ha e fofa e nts’o, mabala a na le likhakana”. Loosely translated, it means that a mature guinea fowl has no colour. In full flight it is black. Colour is only visible amongst its chickens.
Stoker’s life is a story of how not to be a wretched widow or to mourn the greatest but to grief in celebration. In his race he grew, mentored and coached many more. He lived a life of self-liquidating catalytic role, a true succession plan creating more capacity passing on colour to the chickens.
I first met Stoker in 1983 shortly after he joined the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) as a director of survey methodology. Even when he was promoted to a better position, he remained committed to teaching. It was the love of his life. He had a controlled stammer that only became noticeable when he was excited.
He would translate directly from Afrikaans and say “I will learn you this method” instead of I will teach you and this would send the whole class to stitches. This is how the guinea fowl passed colour to the chickens. One of my most memorable encounters was in 1988 when I visited him on a methodological design problem. As I entered his office the first thing he told me was about an experience he had just had of travelling at the speed of sound. Still baffled, he narrated the trans-Atlantic expedition of under two hours on a concord from Paris to New York and back. He was there on an assignment on sampling. Who thought statisticians could be treated like kings?
In 1991, I drove all the way from Mmabatho with my seven year and four year old sons to Pretoria over a weekend to join him on a sampling design program for a post-enumeration survey for the Bophuthatswana Census. My boys would never forget the experience of being at Professor Stoker’s home.
Stoker was a student for life.
When I took over as the statistician-general,I retained Stoker as a consultant at Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) training many more survey statisticians and methodologists. Stokes headed late President Nelson Mandela’s call for whites to use their privilege of years to empower blacks in dedicating his energies to improving Stats SA.
When he then dared us as we planned for the 1996 census and dealing with the question of race, Stoker said “I am an African”, thus throwing a tailspin on the black, white, coloured and Asian categorisation.
In his famous “I am an African” speech, former president Thabo Mbeki paid tribute to the Stokers of our South Africa who heeded Mandela’s call for generosity of mind and heart. Stats SA is an institution that has not aged or passed on with the aging of white human capital like our municipality infrastructure. It has remained rejuvenated as a pearl of the nation embracing all races suggesting therefore that a different South Africa is possible – one without our self-inflicted nightmares. One truly envisioned by the constitution. Colour is with the chickens.
May his soul rest In peace and his widow be consoled.
Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and Former Head of Statistics South Africa.