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

RIP Jotham Mapundi

By Opinion Time of article published Feb 7, 2021

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By Pali Lehohla

THE ZONDO Commission on the alleged capture of the state rages on. The revelations take me back to 2014 where Jotham Mapundi and I shared a moment before attending the State of the Nation Address (Sona).

Mapundi used to work for Statistical Analysis Software (SAS) in South Africa. SAS is a premiere software for national statistics offices.

Mapundi was buried on February 1 in Blantyre, Malawi after succumbing to Covid-19. May his soul rest in peace and may his family and friends be consoled. His passing takes me to many points in time.

First it takes me back to beginning of 2005. Why?

In February 2014, I was standing in a queue at OR Tambo to board a flight to Cape Town for the Sona. And up comes this dude whom I didn’t recognise and greets me. He turns to his wife and says, “This man saved my life and reputation”. It turned out that he worked for SAS. I was puzzled, but decided not to ask. However, at a later coincidental meeting, the story revealed itself.

In 2003, I became a subject of investigation for corruption because it was alleged by some in my office that the properties under my name – which, by the way, I annually fully declared, including the outstanding bonds – became the subject of corruption allegations. The source of these was that I got bribery from SAS.

Jotham’s narration unravelled how the story was cooked in the offices of SAS itself. Jotham had become a successful salesperson at SAS, and envy consumed other SAS officials, so they cooked up some malice.

When the allegations of corruption against me emerged, Jotham was said to be my benefactor.

However, in 2003, Dr Jairo Arrow, head of methodology at Statistics SA, had argued that we need an end-to-end automation in data processing that would extend to publishing. The idea was a no brainer and I authorised consideration for procurement of the system. But this met so much resistance from some ignorant quarters in StatsSA, and as a person carrying risks of the organisation, I authorised procurement.

The rear guard played its monkey tricks and purchase of the SAS-integrated system from collection to publishing was delayed.

So how did I save Jotham? I actually did not know Jotham, except for one meeting when he got into my office briefly with the head of information technology. The person who saved Jotham from slander was actually Jairo.

He had such a wicked sense of humour, which came through in his submission to the allegations of corruption against me.

He argued thus: if any bribery were to be available, he should have been the beneficiary and not myself, because he had asked for the software. Why would he pass it on? he asked.

By ridiculing this nonsensical argument, Jairo saved Jotham and me from unfounded reputational damage.

Jotham, by the time we met in 2014, had left SAS and was running an IT outfit. At the time of his passing he was the chief executive of the WIM Group.

The Zondo Commission is unravelling a spiderweb of intrigue, much more complex than the one Jotham and I innocently walked through.

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

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

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