THE REAL NUMBERS: Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General for Statistics South Africa
JOHANNESBURG -  On the 20th of October 1998, then president Nelson Mandela received the Census ’96 report from Mark Orkin, the then head of Statistics South Africa.

I was the programme director on the day and with the persona of Madiba’s stature, one larger than life.

It made running the programme difficult for me.  The day was a highlight for the newly renamed Statistics South Africa.  Before, it was known as the Central Statistical Service (CSS).  

Upon reflection being a master of ceremony for delivery of census results to presidents is a sure ticket to being a Statistician-General.  I became the Statistician-General of South Africa in 2000.  

My successor, Risenga Maluleke, was the programme director when I handed the 2001 Census results to President Thabo Mbeki in 2003 as well as in 2012 when I handed when I handed the 2011 Census results to President Jacob Zuma. 

In November 2017 Risenga Maluleke assumed a position of Statistician-General.  This is a true statistical observation and hitherto an undisputed fact.  
The officials in the Presidency had told us that we need to keep Madiba’s programme to under 20 minutes.  So as the programme director I had to ensure that I keep to the 

“Buffalo Time.” 

A  task that proved challenging because the programme started late and when he arrived, Madiba could not hold back – he joined the mighty Stats SA  choristers. 

We had prepared an entertaining classic documentary on “The great Counting – How the Census Was Done.”  It ran for 30 minutes and it was an Oscar.   If Madiba had not arrived then what next?  

Oh I had to tell horror stories in undertaking censuses.  

Amongst these  faxing a typexed cheque at 22:00 hrs to secure the release of one official from angry enumerators demanding payment.  By the next morning a real R2million cheque was sent to the Standard Bank in Pietersburg. 

I told parliamentarians this and explained the circumstances.  

Today Scopa’s honourable Godi would have taken me straight to the Public Protector Thuli Madonsela.  
Madiba turned to his speech, which is recorded on youtube youtube

He warned against corruption as though he was addressing the unfolding shenanigans of the ruling party today.  

The launch of the results was not without its entertaining comedy of errors.  Madiba was gracious though. 

First Dr Mark Orkin in his address referred to himself as the head of South Africa.  As though this was not enough, no sooner had I invited the President for his address than Minister Trevor Manuel interrupted with an apology “Mr President I have your census results book and I kept it by mistake.”  

So the attentive Madiba as he took to the stage said, “Well Minister your apology is not going to save you from the harsh remarks I am going to make. That book was supposed to be handed to me first.   I thought I would disappear under a cloud of glory and it is no secret that I said I will be stepping down in less than six months yet some have written me off already as a bygone.   I am a boxer and I know how to defend myself and I will hold on.”  

The audience was all stitches as they embellished the humour of the elderly statesman. 

Then he turned to his written speech.  He talked to the census results and concluded by saying ““But we do at last have results with which we can work, the numbers that count for the nation.  It will take time to absorb the full detail of this intricate picture of our complex society, but the broad outlines should act as the clarion call to re-dedicate ourselves in every sector of the society, to the historic mission of a generation charged with transforming South African’s society in order to eradicate the poverty and imbalances that derive from our past.”

Then Madiba handed me his sheath of sheets as he turned to the audience for remarks he would like to make. 

This is the part that all South Africans should listen to because it is exactly this hope that he would disappear in glory jovially rebuking Manuel and Orkin that paradoxically was not to be as his party with glee enthusiastically commits in self-inflicted tragedy today.  
He went at length to caution on corruption and expressed deep disappointment especially as this was engineered by his comrades. 

He comforted himself that he was doing something about it.  This mainly was by investigating, prosecuting, incarcerating and confiscating the proceeds of corruption.

It must be paining Madiba and his comrades today that 24 years into hard won democracy, instead of consolidating our achievements through a series of centenary programmes we are cursed by devastating political, economic, social and moral regression anchored in perpetual scandal.  

At the historic Polokwane Elective Conference then president Mbeki asked a number of times, “How will we be remember them those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom as we end a centenary of struggle.” 

The delegates would have none of it as they drowned him in ridicule.  Mbeki had set his eyes on a conurbation of a hundred years anchored on the ANC, OR Tambo and Mandela in order to consolidate the gains. 

They who paid with their lives today must be tossing in their graves as they watch our shameful act.   Hendrik Verwoerd and John Vorster must be smiling for a perfect project accomplished.  

Were ours a wedding, it would portend a bitter valentine; likened to the cold blooded murder of Reeva Steenkamp in this month of love – A betrayal of Julius Ceaser, a Lady Macbeth nightmare South Africans would wish were just a dream. 

View the video below: 


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

- BUSINESS REPORT