Codesa was about the constitution, legislation and institutions and how these would give effect to a new political, social and economic order. From two homelands in the west and north of the country an intense debate was brewing on statistics. These developments started in Bophuthatswana from 1990 and in Gazankulu four years later in 1994.
In 1991 I initiated an Mmabatho-based initiative that culminated in the three-person team of Professor Akiiki Kahimbaara, Professor Herman Geyer and I answering the question of what the content and under what institutional arrangements a system of statistics in the new South Africa should be. Unbeknown to me, by 1994 a similar question was being raised in Giyani, albeit not at the same level of intellectual sophistication and resourcing.
By the beginning of 1994, I travelled to Pretoria to meet with a contingent from Giyani to discuss the key-stroke elements of these developments. Unfortunately, the mastermind from Giyani could not make it, but the meeting continued overnight.
After the landmark elections of 1994 and the establishment of the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) office, Dr Benny Mokaba joined the team and Dr Job Mokgoro became the director-general of the then newly-formed government of the North West. This added fire power to the team that I was leading.
In October 1994, Professor Kahimbaara and I arranged a major symposium at Rooigrond, outside Mahikeng, which all RDP offices in the provinces as well as all homeland statistics offices and research institutions, including some universities, attended. The main theme was official statistics practice in post-apartheid South Africa.
The Giyani delegation arrived, but not with their lead person. I spoke to him over the phone, regretting that he could not be there, but even across the distance our antennas were well connected. In 1995 I was able, for the first time, to meet this young man, who was visiting the Central Statistical Services (CSS) management to discuss his vision for Limpopo. I liked his ideas, as Limpopo did not have a unifying leader, and this was exactly what I was looking for.
The provinces were still in a flux and no clear leadership, except for the North West, had emerged, and we had to implement the uniform dispensation requisites as well as apply chapter B special. The Venda contingent, which fell under the TBVC states, was the formal structure through which one could relate with Limpopo, yet Venda was not showing any appetite for leading Limpopo during the years of uncertainty and showed no mantle for doing so even in 1995.
The Giyani contingent, which was now occupying the space in Limpopo, albeit as a provincial component and not CSS, had risen to the plate and in fact displayed the same tactics my team and I in North West applied to tackle the then-intransigent CSS leadership. In this young man, with his long and thin arms floating in his oversized khaki shirt, I could relate to the underlying struggle.
In fact, I realised that while I was now at the CSS, a legitimate process similar to one we had in North West of forcing CSS to comply was a necessary pressure point and threat for us as new management of the CSS to understand that we should follow through with change.
In August 1996, CSS advertised for the deputy director positions for heading provinces. I called him and said “you are going to apply for this position”. In October we interviewed and the panel chaired by Dr Orkin - the then-head of the CSS - decided on appointing him. I called Dr Benny Mokaba that very afternoon and told him we had appointed a head of the CSS in the making.
I said so mindful of the fact that my turn after Mark Orkin was still a possibility. In January 1997, he moved out of the province’s statistics outfit in Limpopo into the CSS statistics office for that province. The immediate task was processing Census ‘96 data and preparing for a fully-fledged provincial outfit for running surveys.
At the end of June 2000, Mark Orkin’s tenure came to an end. Ros Hirschowitz was appointed as acting statistician-general and the post was advertised and I applied.
However, from August 2000 I seconded him to head office. He asked me about how long he would be there and I said I do not know, but I need you here and now. With Professor Kahimbaara and this young man we set in motion a strategy for transforming StatsSA and leading it. When I learnt of my appointment in November 2000, I was with him and it was already 11pm.
We called Kahimbaara and we rushed back to the office to prepare for discussions on how we should implement the strategy now that I had been appointed. I present to you Risenga Butler Maluleke, the second statistician-general of South Africa, who never went back to Limpopo to head the province, but remained at head office to form a formidable binary leadership with me for the past almost quarter of a century.
He became my chief of staff, dedicated to the task of transformation of the institution. Every development programme I attended he attended. Every development initiative I started Maluleke was the first to go in - a food taster, so to say, and a butler both in name and practice, he is now the custodian. Key among this was the Harvard Leadership Training in 2003, after I completed my tenure in 2002.
He successfully completed the Master’s programme that I initiated in 2011 at the University of Stellenbosch. It is the Centre for Regional and Urban Innovation and Statistical Exploration, which I unfortunately never attended.
The centre, which was in the making since I met Professor Geyer in 1992, ultimately eventuated in 2010 and Maluleke and 12 others from StatsSA were the first to enrol.
He has recently completed a programme for modelling at the Applied Development Research Solution, where he participated with 12 others from StatsSA and the Department of Planning Monitoring and Evaluation. I ensured that Maluleke not only participated in these programmes, but became the unifier and lead person.
As he rises to the helm of StatsSA, he will lead these capacity-enhancing programmes and make statistics in South Africa bigger and brighter.
He is a well-prepared professional, a unifier of note, a politically astute individual - and no pushover. In the 17 years of my tenure, December was without exception a leadership testing month. We are writing a book with him, titled And December Came - Lessons in Leadership through the Making of StatsSA.
This will give readers a glimpse into what we were up against. Indeed, while big matters were being discussed in Kempton Park at Codesa - small matters of statistics were discussed in Mmabatho and Giyani.
The rural boys from Lesotho and Gazankulu immersed themselves in these matters, well below the radar, and Pali Lehohla and Risenga Maluleke came to lead in succession - one of the most iconic institutions of the state - Statistics South Africa. I am pleased that what I saw on the coin in 1996 is what the selection panel for a statistician-general of 2017 saw.
I wish Risenga Maluleke well in taking the journey we started forward.
Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and Head of Statistics South Africa. Please note, Lehohla will carry on writing for Business Report in his personal capacity.
- BUSINESS REPORT