THE REAL NUMBERS: Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General for Statistics South Africa
JOHANESBURG -  My first project upon arrival at Bophuthatswana Statistics office in November 1982 was to prepare for the 1985 Census of the Population.  

From then to March 1985 we were able to conduct the census and by January 1986 we were working on publication of results. 

However,the demography of a nation is not complete without the documentation of births, deaths, marriages and divorces, including causes of death. 

An attempt at analysng the census data required data from this important source of information and prompted me to conduct an investigation on the nature, levels and trends in reporting of vital events. 

As I explored the data at the department of internal affairs, it was clear that registration of these events was woefully inadequate.  A household-based survey was needed to understand why the registration of these events was so incomplete. 

Six factors hindered birth registration and whilst this was apparent in Bophuthatswana, it was not hard to infer that this was prevalent especially amongst blacks in the rest of the country.   

And by 1998, 12 years later, I used this study results to recommend for implementation major changes in legislation and administration. 

First, it was change to birth notification.  

The study had found out that up to 90percent of births occured in hospitals and it would be easier to improve birth registration if health facilities were to be centres of notification.  

Second, the requirement for the father of the child to appear on the certificate led to mothers not registering births, this was repealed. 

Third, registration of births occurred on three days in a week and this changed to all days of the week. Fourth, fees for registration were repealed.

Fifth, births occurring to children younger than 16 years were not registered because of the ID requirement, which could be issued to those 16  years and above. This requirement had to be removed.  Sixth, remote villages and towns suffered underregistration because of distances.  To address this home affairs further innovated by mobile registration which continue to run everyday of the week to this day.

In the Star of the 29 August, Nicola Daniels commented on the recent report of Statistician General Maluleke on births and this was with a lead title ‘Babies without a father’.  This reflects a culture that by 1985 was already endemic and continues to be so as 62percent of the births then in 1985 in the homeland and same percentage today has no notification of a father not only on the certificate but in the life of these children.  The mothers have rejected half the fathers claiming to be married and a StatsSA  report published since about 2012 has shown -  a dire situation for building a new nation.   

Evidence is the basis for action.  Better statistics better outcomes.  True activists use evidence as their weapon to distil riddles, mysteries and miracles.  As we head for the mystery filled 2019, let us remember the power of evidence for our choices.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former statistician-general of South Africa and former head of statistics South Africa.

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