Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa. Meet him at www.pie.org.za and @palilj01 or @PaliLehohla
Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa. Meet him at www.pie.org.za and @palilj01 or @PaliLehohla

OPINION: Planning needed to address SA's crisis

By Pali Leholhla Time of article published Jan 22, 2020

Share this article:

JOHANNESBURG - Hardly a day passes without high economic drama - SAA yesterday and today has hogged the news.

Yesterday South Africa woke up to the news that 19 SAA flights had been cancelled, affecting international and local travellers. How did we reach this point?

I have sounded like a broken record over a decade, but the key action for the government to take is proper planning and not spin current crises.

My argument for planning is backed by my profession - statistical evidence. I have vocalised this repeatedly. The government for the past eight or so years has refused to look at evidence and the need for planning, despite launching the National Development Plan (NDP) in 2012.

Symptomatic of the lack of planning that weakens the country is the recent revelation that Pupils at Ekhamanzi Primary School near Greytown have to wade through a river to attend school, despite the Education Department being alerted seven years ago.

We have now reached the point that children have to cross treacherous rivers to get education, while others recently drowned in cesspits and swimming pools - accidents waiting to happen through delayed planning. The children’s only sin for drowning is their thirst for education.

Like a swine, pearls in front of it, South Africa has swallowed its fortunes as a country.

These pearls are not a catharsis that cleanses and restores, but one that weakens and kills.

The ratings threat by agency Moody’s to downgrade South Africa to a junk rating reminds me of a jury decision in the thriller, Twelve Angry Men.

In the movie, after a long trial, the jurors are eager to get on their way home. Some are wanting to go and watch a major sporting event, but “a jury must decide whether a 19-year-old man is guilty of murdering his father”.

The jury votes 11-1 that the man is guilty of the crime, but laws in the US require a unanimous vote by all 12 jurors in order to pass judgment. Tempers flare as the 11 jurors try their best to convince the one dissenter to come around to their side. As the evidence is re-examined, however, new uncertainties come to light, forcing everyone to truly question if there is in fact some measure of “reasonable doubt”.

When do we question our platitudes and let the searing light of facts to pierce our conscience?

With Moody’s at the gates, the government and business say that there have been too many plans and there is no time for planning. This is a catharsis that is not restorative, but one that is fatal.

One has to look no further than the latest matric results, with the consequences for the youth, to understand how not planning is playing out for South Africa.

How can President Cyril Ramaphosa and the Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshega say that there was progress in matric results?

Congratulating those who passed is not a problem, but saying to the nation that we are making progress is nothing short of an emission of fatal catharsis.

Take the remarks of Nzimande. Based on the matric results he rightly laments that we have actually gotten fewer passes for maths and science at university this year compared to last year and he is not at this rate meeting the NDP goals for skills from Higher Education.

Nzimande should, however, also look at the progression ratios in higher education.

When last I said those progression ratios had regressed amongst Blacks and Coloureds at university, Nzimande made untidy remarks about me. But we know the road to Damascus can be transformational. Saul became Paul.

But how does Nzimande’s evidence and remarks of degenerating performance weigh up with those of Ramaphosa and Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga on the notion of performance and progress?

You need data to plot performance and progress.

A recent example of this was National director of Public Prosecutions Shamila Batohi’s recent report to Parliament, which is refreshing as it shreds the notion of progress to tatters using crime statistics.

As the then statistician-general I reported that in 800000 reported cases of crime, arrests accounted for 70 000, prosecutions came to 14000 and convictions and incarcerations were only 2000, rendering a conviction rate of just about 4percent.

I argued that if you played lotto and 96percent of the time you won, then that is a highly rewarding gamble. That is what crime is in South Africa - it pays.

In the searing light of this data, Batohi can see the crumbling criminal justice system. Looking at conviction rate relative not to prosecution, but cases reported, she says the ratio of success, therefore, is 2percent.

She concludes that this reflects the parlous state of our criminal justice system and now she has a true magnitude of the challenge before her as she plans her journey.

Using statistics South Africa can plot the road ahead.

In similar ways Motshega knows that there are 1.1 million children who start school.

She knows only 500000 will sit for matric and less than 150000 will pass with university exemption. Nzimande says I have many mansions in my father’s house.

I have prepared two hundred thousand of such mansions for university exemption.

So what is the real pass rate when using Batohi’s standard? The answer is that for university exemption it is about 15 percent, and overall it is only 45percent and not 81percent as celebrated by the President and Minister of Basic Education.

No doubt, therefore, Nzimande deserves to be worried.

Three lessons emerge.

First, the solution of our self-inspired crisis is not one that can be driven by Moody’s. South Africa needs planning time and time to address it.

Second, we should address education as a central emergency South Africa faces and heed the concerns of Nzimande.

Third, spin will not help such as seen in the case of SAA. Moody’s and many others will see through the shallowness of our hurriedly baked arguments in dealing with this state-owned entity.

Ramaphosa spoke of catharsis.

Fact-saturated solutions, which are not sugar coated spin, will deliver the catharsis that South Africa so badly needs to plan the country’s restoration and progress.

The world is not going to wait, but will cheer and laugh at us as we dribble and fall all over ourselves.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa. Meet him at www.pie.org.za and @palilj01 or @PaliLehohla


Share this article: