Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General and former head of Statistics South Africa. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi
Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General and former head of Statistics South Africa. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi

Remembering a past scene of looting – what kind of a nation are we becoming?

By Pali Lehohla Time of article published Jul 18, 2021

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THE scenes in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, the epicentre of looting and burning of property, took me back 27 years to the beginning of March 1994 – 44 days before South Africa’s historic elections.

I was the director of Bophuthatswana Statistics then.

President Lucas Mangope invited the civil servants to an address at the Mmabatho Convention Centre. We anticipated an announcement that he would participate in the elections.

When he rejected this, a number of us stormed out of the centre. The following week Professor (Akiiki John) Kahimbaara and I had a scheduled training session at the Human Sciences Research Council in Pretoria.

Driving through Ventersdorp we saw Eugene Terre’Blanche, the white supremacist who founded the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB), in his blue Nissan Bakkie driving frantically and it became clear two days later that he was mobilising the invasion or protection of Mahikeng.

After 13 years of parting ways from the National University of Lesotho I met the late Ajulu Rok and we always had entertaining political debates.

I asked him about the relevance of his thesis on the rise and fall of Ntsu Mokhehle; perhaps he needs to go and revise it as I told him then in 1980 that Mokhehle had not fallen.

He teased me saying I should go back to Lesotho before all political positions are taken up. We had quite a reflective moment on the political transitions in South Africa and Lesotho. By the next day things took a slide and there was no stopping.

As is usually the case, by the time there was a reaction, social equilibrium had been disrupted and the genie had left the bottle. I could witness the scenes from afar, in the safety of my Pretoria hotel, and the advice we got was stay put, do not drive back.

My family was in Imperial Reserve, which was a mere 300m from where the three AWB fighters were shot dead and slumped against the blue Mercedes-Benz. Adjoining the reserve was the police college. One of the police officers sneaked out, got to my house and asked for private clothes.

My son was generous and the policeman came out as a private citizen and left his uniform in the custody of my 14-year-old. I kept the national loot as a siege of Mahikeng momento.

Later there was burning of the Megacity and rampant looting.

On Sunday, we drove back and avoided going through Ventersdorp and used gravel roads that went through Ga Matlala. The mood was sombre.

Upon getting in Mahikeng, the destruction was in your eyes, there was no water and there was no bread. I can relate to the scenes in Durban. The value chains have been broken and the impact of this will not only be felt in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng but will reverberate throughout the country.

We now are left to ask ourselves what kind of society are we becoming and how are we going to pull ourselves out of this morass of monumental failure of party politics and parliamentary democracy.

We need a hard look at who we choose for leadership and what economic and social policies we opt for.

President Thabo Mbeki asked the question repeatedly at the historic Polokwane Elective Conference of how will we honour those who paid with limb and life for us to enjoy the freedoms we have today during the ANC centenary.

The answer from the mob was a deafening silence.

The effects of that silence is the loud implosion of a nation into a Gwara-Gwara scenario, a land of disorder and hopelessness characterised by the long build up to what we witnessed recently.

My intended national loot of police uniform during the siege of Mafikeng was short lived. The policeman came and my son handed what I though would be my deserved momento of that sad history.

We are reminded of this on Mandela Day. A desecration of his and his comrade’s legacy.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General and former head of Statistics South Africa. Meet him at www.pie.org and @Palilj01

*The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL or of title sites

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