THE REAL NUMBERS: Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General for Statistics South Africa
JOHANNESBURG - The water crisis in Cape Town is deepening as reality of absence of water draws near.  Many have given opinions on the matter and at a political level rude exchanges and finger pointing has dominated the scene. 

As the date for the State of the Nation draws near the noisy water crisis in the Mother City will even be amplified. 

I happen to have been in the Mother City from the 29th of February to the 1st of March and experienced buckets and queues of people, cars and lights, wealth and riches all in motion side by side.

I could not imagine my village where I grew up with these contradictions of backwardness and what often one sees as modernity.  
Only buckets and queues would correspond to mooing of cattle, neighing of horses, bleating of sheep and dogs barking.  Not queues of water.  But alas side-by-side with hooting sedans of all types were buckets of water to be lifted in whatever space there remained in the sedan.  Shack dwellers and rural residents have come to experience this near day zero regularly though.  

But one would not expect it in the Mother City.

In 2013 about ten of us from all over the world were invited to what I was told is the intellectual city - Hangzhou, in the Zheijiang province of China.  This was shortly after I released the 2011 Census results in 2012. 

The purpose of the Hangzhou meeting was to elaborate the economic implications of the demography of China arising out of the results of Census 2010 of China.  This followed on the history of an almost 50 year programme of China’s one child policy.  However, how South Africa and China handled the information from their census differed in their planning outcomes and handing future demographic realities.

The key issues emerging in China were the 100 million floating population of China, the ageing population, the increasing masculinity ratio and the economy of China.  Technocrats from the National Bureau of China, from Planning Ministry, from Industry and from universities were in the workshop.  
Although China has a very tight control on the movement of people, increasingly China did not have a handle on almost a hundred million people whose place of abode could not be validated.  This proved to be disruptive to the planned development path of China.  Second, China was increasingly ageing and as such would face a slowdown in economic development if the decommissioning of China’s elderly would not be compensated for by a reenergised youthful population, and third China’s male population was an emergent problem as there were no females to marry. 

Managing migration in a population whose birth records and migration is not documented can be very challenging in the absence of a deliberate civil registration system.  

In any population dynamics thus far witnessed including the demographic dividend that China is experiencing, development especially medical, education and economic growth are accompanied by a steady development and near full employment of the population.  

But in time the elderly become bigger as a result of better living conditions and they live longer.  The consequence of this would be economic decline as there is a disproportionate reduction of the productive forces in the population.   Third, the Chinese like many patriarchal societies prefer boy children for sustaining male lineage.  However, in a society where only one child was allowed to be born to a family this increased sex selective practices that biased in favour of male births beyond the natural sex selection at conception.

This exacerbated the bias of male births and at marriageability age there were too many more males than were females.  In any population allowed natural sex selection at conception, at marriage age of eighteen the number of males and females are almost equal even though more males than females would have been born.  Death takes its toll on males but in China even when natural culling of males would have occurred to reach this balance for potential conjugal engagements, the number of males still far exceeded that of females.  
The question the Chinese asked themselves was given these demographic realities what should they do in the next 40 years against a backdrop of an economic success. 

They had to report to the politburo at the end of that meeting advising on the steps to take.  At the end of the meeting they had three resolutions.

First China should adopt a two child policy to stem up the prospects of an ageing population but more importantly to achieve a stationary population with more or less a fixed age structure that would be consistent with production, consumption and China’s progressive development.  Second, with a growing young population emerging from a two child policy, China will have to develop and grow through significant domestic consumption and third sustain and increase growth through exports.  This is how China responded to Census 2010.

What did South Africa respond to Census 2011. 

As the Statistician-General (SG), I was invited to many a for a, but the most significant in numbers was the ANC 53rd Elective Conference in Mangaung in December 2012 where I presented Census 2011 results.  Obviously the road to the 53rd Session could have not taken into account Census 2011 results as these were released too shortly ahead of the conference.  However, beyond then not much attention was given to these results. 

Neither was adequate scrutiny in the form of how South Africa plans was given to the 2016 Community Survey Results.  

As relates to the government of the Western Cape, upon delivering the results to the Premier in 2012, an excited Premier Zille summarised my presentation thus – So SG you are saying population wise we are the fastest growing and secondly in terms of service delivery we are meeting the needs and amongst our provinces we are providing the highest proportion of our population with these services compared to all other provinces. 

I said Premier Zille you have read the evidence correctly. Obviously that set the agenda for elections for 2014.  
But perhaps we missed one point in our development discourse namely what are the implications of this growth for our cities ecosystem. 

In another study that Stats SA conducted in fact it concluded that the City of Cape Town enjoyed the highest urban function index. 

Sandton and Randburg combined came in at 94percent of what Cape Town with the City of Johannesburg coming in at 81percent, Durban at 76, Cape Town northern Suburbs were 62percent and Mmaelodi – Silverton Complex came in at sixth at 51percent.  On position nine with a 1.4percent of what Cape Town is was Nigel and Bochum my Darling was position one thousand with an insignificant fraction of 0.0001 of the size of Cape Town.  
Cape Town is not only a regional and national city, it is a global city and is interconnected to the national and global grid ecosystem of urban spaces. 

To date the political bickering is so void of this crucial evidence that come day zero the national urban ecosystem will choke with major ramifications on global systems let alone on the much dreamt of growth in gross domestic product.  Madiba teaches us that “Significant progress is always possible if we ourselves plan every detail and allow intervention of fate only on our own terms.

Preparing a masterplan and applying it are totally different things. For as long as South Africa pays scant attention to scientific evidence the possibility of significant progress that Madiba potently tells us about is not possible as we have chosen to be and remain objects and victims of fate. 

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

The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Independent Group.