By Pali Lehohlda
PROFESSOR Stan Sangweni is no more, he has joined Dr Zola Skweyiya. At his memorial service last week one of the messages that distinctly stuck with me took me back to 1994, when Sangweni and Skweyiya visited Mmabatho. The journey to the government administration offices would not be complete without taking a turn at the BopStats Office, which I headed.
What impressed Sangweni the most was the sophistication of the conceptual frameworks and geographic information systems we had developed for integrating statistical systems and evidence. This immediately took him to Nairobi where he worked for UN Environment Programme.
Then one of the most important programmes of government, but which was rather obscure, was preparations for the census, which was scheduled for 1995. We had taken to the use of technology, and had acquired digital technology to digitise enumeration areas (EAs) in similar ways to the Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing files of the US Bureau of the Census.
By all counts we had advanced far ahead compared to the Central Statistical Services that was annotating EAs free hand. The two gentleman left BopStats beaming with satisfaction. I was later whisked from Bop in 1995 July to lead the 1996 census effort.
One of the achievements of Census 1996 was to gift to the Independent Electoral Commission the digitised shape-files of the EAs for purposes of building voting districts and wards. Industry uses these EAs for consumer products marketing.
The Mmabatho meeting was not the last to see Sangweni. In early 2002, Sangweni convened the directors general and took them through an ethics programme, at the end of which we had to sign our collective commitment to these set of ethics on a massive canvass.
I was then the statistician-general of South Africa, and had just concluded a second massive stint in national duty, the enumeration phase of the 2001 census of the population. Little did I know that I would be a subject of investigation shortly after the signing ceremony. Some in my office made allegations that I embezzled funds. I approached the then Minister Trevor Manuel, who was my executive authority, and asked that these allegations be investigated. I needed guidance on how I go about it. He said go to Sangweni. I did.
He listened attentively as I presented myself for investigation and provided him documentation, which also gave him authority to go through any financial institution he would deem necessary. I knew the allegations were spurious, but Sangweni was thorough and called for a forensic investigation, which rather puzzled me.
Moepi (May His Soul Rest in Peace) from Ernst and Young was appointed to lead the investigation. He was an equally thorough investigator. The investigations can be very irritating, especially when you know they are spurious. But at the end, they are very useful. Sangweni handed down the results to Manuel. This was their statement. Not only was the investigation forensic, but the alleged called for the investigation. The allegations were found to be false.
It is perhaps this thoroughness in investigation in 2003 that I subjected myself to that left me to have held the record of the longest-serving director general – 17 years in all.
Post the investigations I had continued discussions with Moepi on the subject of ethics and whistle-blowing and the violation of rights of those who have been falsely labelled. I was saddened by his being murdered and this happened coincidentally while investigating a Cosatu matter.
With revelations from the Zondo Commission, it is regrettable that South Africa again exhibits stubborn proclivity by refusing to learn from its well chiselled leadership.
Our paths continued to cross with Sangweni, including at the Kgalema Motlanthe Foundation inclusive growth forum, where he made an impassioned plea for ethics and a competency-based patriotic civil service.
Sangweni and many stalwarts before him must be very disappointed at us. But hopefully as people endowed with immense hope, they still hope that we shall ultimately learn and mend our ways. May His Soul Rest in Peace.
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