Pali Lehohla
Pali Lehohla

Pali Lehohla full speech at Karabo Centre

By Pali Lehohla Time of article published Jan 19, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG -  I feel very honoured by this invitation which suggests for me a distinct recognition that perhaps I can contribute something to education.

I am pleased to be amongst these luminaries of the Class of 2019 who defied Dr Verwoerd and demonstrated that a Bantu child knows what the use of mathematics is.
That gives us hope that our endorsement of Dr Verwoerd philosophy of “What is the use of teaching a Bantu child mathematics when he cannot use it in practice” is ill informed and hollow.

The African child is not deserving of Maths Literacy which as a country we introduced thereby endorsing Dr Verwoerd’s legacy.  But the African child is deserving of Mathematics.  Karabo Centre, which connects the schools in Vooslorus proves the point beyond doubt and gives us hope that the teaching profession, the most important profession in life besides nursing can be brought back to health.  The distribution of the pass rate at grade 11 in Mathematics where a third of the students fail mathematics compared to when the cohort are in Grade 12 where only 10% score between 50-59% and 70% score higher than 70% speaks to the potency and the transformative power of the programme.  It burns Verwoerd’s legacy like phosphorous out of water, a balloon just punctured with a small pin on a birthday.  All the lies, hallucinations and myths about maths being impossible for an African mind flounder and disappear.  The dramatic improvements in results and the testimonies Mphumelelo Nomzaza, third place in science nationally.  I do not understand, however, how you can be third when you scored 100% in Maths and Physics subjects. In my book he is first.  

Mollele Ernest 100% in Physics, Mudau Ndamulelo 100% Maths and Physics, Lesibana Thabiso, 100% maths, Miya Thabiso 100% in both maths and physics, and their sister Tsheoga Itumeleng 99% Maths, is all solid testimony that our problems are not beyond us.  They are solvable and within our reach.  

In fact I have learnt of many similar individual efforts that have yielded results such as those of Mr Mguni who transformed from a Sheebeen King to a Maths Centre in Soweto and Dr Sadah Moodley whose teaching methods from his Benoni lab triggers the three senses of cognition seeing, touch and hearing.  

All these proof beyond doubt that with care where it counts the most, the challenge in education and the attendant improvements are not by a snail pace percentage point, with a 15% exemption rate for university, but can actually be the significantly improved to equivalent of White and Indian children.  This centre demonstrates to us what Gogo Nontsikelelo Qwelane, the oldest teacher who still teaches in South Africa if not in the whole world.  She teaches in White River, Neilspruit in Mpumalanga said, if we love our children and show it they will excel.  No one fails in her school.  She turned 100 this year, wakes up at 3:00 am to work on student’s scripts and 7:00 am she is in class.  

She will know that the profession is in good hands and perhaps may now choose to rest.

Let me congratulate you all.  Now turning to the world you are entering and what odds you should defy.  I have looked at the most read oldest book in the Christian world the bible and it has some wise words for us.  

I have picked on Genesis 1:28, Luke 8:5, John 14:2, Matthew 22:14, Matthew 5:13 and finally what I implore you to do which is in Matthew 18:12.
Genesis 1:28 tells us God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that crawls upon the earth.”   

You have been asked to go and fill the earth and subdue and rule over everything in it.  This is a great mandate.  But it demands such great responsibility and leadership.  This centre is teaching you that leadership and responsibility.  To be the Class of 1976 which defied Kruger and Voster, but very little came out of the class of 1976 today.  

June 1976 celebrations are a useless jamboree and you are called upon to lead this charge.  You are called upon to go and fill the earth responsibly.  In this regard I call your attention to Luke 8:5  which reads “a sower went out to sow his seed.  And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. 

And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

You represent the seed that fell in good soil and you are expected to yield a hundred fold. Your task is to advance the desires and visions of the class of 1976.  You are expected to advance the wishes and visions of Lembede who died under forty years of age.  On the eve of the end of World War II, a turning point in the life of South Africa took place.  

Path dependent and thus irreversible political processes that would ring true to “Freedom in Our Lifetime”- Lembede’s vision- unfolded.  These were deeply perceived and captured through the formation of the African National Congress Youth League in 1944 by Oliver Tambo (1917-1993), Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), Walter Sisulu (1912-2003), Jordan Kush Ngubane (1917-1995), Ellen Kuzwayo (1914-2006), Albertina Sisulu (1918-2011), Ashley P Mda (1916-1993), Dan Tloome (1919-1992), David Bopape (1915-2004) and its first President Anton Lembede (1914-1947).  

You should reclaim what we have lost in corruption and state capture and put us to shame for having condemned you to Maths Literacy when you know you do not deserve an underclass level nor a pass rate that includes 30%.  This is a tragedy insulting the class of 1976.  You are the seed that fell in good soil.  You have to ask true questions about who is this sower who will sow on paths where birds devour the seed, who sows on rocks where there is no moisture and the seeds post germination die, who sows on thorns and the seed gets suffocated and die.  The sower was the apartheid government and post-apartheid it is our ANC government, it is our families, it is ourselves as society.

How else can we explain that 60% of fathers claim to be married against 30% of mothers?  It means this fathers went and filled the world with children and sowed wherever their depravity sent them without any care for the product of their semen.  Our tragedy in schools begin at conception by the time amongst you stepping in grade 1 the damage has been done.  You are cast in thorns, on rocks and on paths.  Look at the statistics of rape, child abuse and gender based violence and femicide.
John 14:2 says “In my Father’s house are many mansions.  If it were not so, I would have told you.  So you know in this our South Africa there are many opportunities and this Centre has just shown that indeed these opportunities need to be opened up for you to take them on.  You have and in this regard like in Matthew 22:14 he says “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”  Out of the many matriculants in Vooslorus only you 102 have been chosen, the number cumulatively from when the programme started is now just over 400.  

This hardly answers our menacing challenges yet it demonstrates in the words of Gogo Qwelane that if we love them and show me love they will rise against all odds.  From a third who failed Maths at Grade 11, to a hundred percent pass rate with 70% of your cohort scoring above 70% and less than 10 percent scoring between 50-59% confirms the centenarian’s point who still teaches.  You must be inspired by her.  She is as in the words of Matthew 5-13 the salt of the earth “ But if the salt loses its flavour, how can it be made salty again?  

It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.  You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.”  You are indeed the salt of the earth and like Gogo Qwelane you should bring life to our dead lives of spin, of theft, looting, stealing from the future, condemning generations to life of destitution by poor education, of display of riches, of corruption in the name of democracy.  You are the salt that should revive Lembede, that should reach the dreams of Biko, of Tsietsi Mashinini, of Sobukwe.  

The spirit of Madikisela Mandela of resilience.  Of the great African kings who resisted and fought capture in whatever form. Of Moshoeshoe, Shaka, Sikhukhune, of Makhado, of Hinza.  

This is what being the salt of the earth is.  If it loses its saltiness is where the crisis in the party that led us to liberation has become. It has lost its saltiness through graft.  Learn from this bitter history that should be causing Oliver Tambo (1917-1993), Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), Walter Sisulu (1912-2003), Jordan Kush Ngubane (1917-1995), Ellen Kuzwayo (1914-2006), Albertina Sisulu (1918-2011), Ashley P Mda (1916-1993), Dan Tloome (1919-1992), David Bopape (1915-2004) and its first President Anton Lembede (1914-1947) turn in their grave for a betrayal of a dream of Freedom in Our Life Time.  This is not a South African dream it is an African dream which is failed state after state. In my country Lesotho this dream has become a nightmare, so is the case in Zimbabwe as it is engulfing us in South Africa.  

Be the salt of the earth be the light, you are the city on the hill and you cannot be hidden.  Transparency is and should be your mission.

If you do not undertake these tasks and massive transformative tasks and programmes to change our course and cause ours will be a land of doom including eating all your great achievements.  Matthew 18:12 says it all – “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go out to search for the one that is lost? 

And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices more over that one sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray.”  This is what is keeping Gogo Qwelane going, this is what created this centre.  The Sustainable Development Goals 2030 Agenda is about this – leaving no one behind.

In South Africa 1 200 000 are born annually and only 45 percent will sit for Matric.  Only 15 percent will get university exemption.  Fifty percent of those who have not set for Matric will be unemployed for the rest of their lives and the situation is bound to get worse with the 4IR.  This is now your challenge.  

It is not the one sheep in a hundred that gets lost and the good shepherd leaves the 99 to get the one, but our challenge is to get 85% of the sheep that have gone astray.  You the class of 2019 have this challenge.  You are well equipped for it because in John 9:25 “you once were blind but now you see.”  May you shine your light and deliver us from the rut of corruption and defeat Verwoerd’s wish of condemning the African child to hew wood and draw water for the master.

Thank you.   

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


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