Former Statistician-General for Statistics South Africa Pali Lehohla. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi
Former Statistician-General for Statistics South Africa Pali Lehohla. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi

RIP Zweli Zuma, whose love of Maths was an inspiration to others

By Opinion Time of article published Oct 27, 2020

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Pali Lehohla

Johannesburg - Gone too early is Somashi High School educator Zweli Zuma, gunned down last week.

His love for teaching did not stop him from teaching students mathematics, then under a tree. Under the banner of International Conference on Teaching Statistics (ICOTS), South Africa, hosted ICOTS 6 in 2002 and this was followed by ICOTS 7in 2006 hosted in Bahia – Brazil. Inspired by the inroads we made of bringing teachers to ICOTS 6 in Cape Town, we committed to this tradition for ICOTS 7.

Zuma was a graduate of University of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), who chose to start his teaching career in his community of birth eMabovini, Msinga Municipality of KZN. He wanted nothing, but to teach and to teach maths.

His first school had no resources or even classrooms.

And so he would prop an old chalkboard he had obtained from a visit to a prestigious school in Durban on a brick under the cool of the trees and teach. He encouraged his colleagues to do the same.

To realise the dream Statstics SA conceptualised the Maths4Stats programme and in 2006 we rolled out a competition in the media for Maths teachers to enrol in the programme with special focus on taking them to ICOTS 7 in Bahia, Brazil.

Dr Miranda Mafafo, who ran this special project from my office, ran with the ball and in excess of 3500 Maths teachers responded countrywide.

Testing centre's were set up in sites across the country for teachers to sit an exam at 9am on a Saturday morning. Test was set and marked by Professor Jackie Galpin and Jackie Schreiber of Wits Univeristy.

We shortlisted 200 teachers and interviewed them all, looking for that quality in a teacher that confirmed our belief in the importance of mathematics in building a numerate society.

In the provincial offices of Stats SA in Durban, one of the shortlisted teachers interviewed was Zuma, who sat across from us and told us that unless we involved teachers in the development of maths curriculum and resources, unless we worked with teachers in unbundling the new learning outcome 4 on probability and data handling, we were still far off from building that numerate society.

The Maths4Stats could not have been better captured in the vision of this a Msholozi, so we chose this young man, who had never been out of his province before.

We fetched him on a Wednesday afternoon from his village. The entire community came out to bid farewell to one of their own, on his way to ICOTS in Bahia -Brazil.

He would sleep overnight in Ladysmith in a hotel, his first time. He arrived in Pretoria on Thursday to prepare to meet Minister Trevor Manuel at a send-off function on a Friday held at Gallagher Estates.

Zuma would be part of 34 teachers we took to ICOTS, something never experienced before except in Cape Town, in the ICOTS tradition, to bring teachers into discussions on matters of statistics education.

He enjoyed trivia and often ridiculed himself on this.

In his hotel room in Bahia he had a twin bed and he told us that by midnight he would switch from the one bed to the other to slumber as a way of maximiSing utility of his visit.

Zuma as a committed teacher would come back and stay the course till his death.

At some point when our maths4stats program seemed to be falling apart, he called Dr Mafafo and said “Dr M just when I thought finally I have met a government department that finishes what it started, now you too are failing to finish maths4stats?”

That said he made it clear to her that with or without StatsSA, he would finish what he started in Msinga.

And he did. In short he dipped his bucket where he was and for statistics in particular the bucket can be dipped anywhere. There is always something to measure.

He continued teaching even after promotion to Principal.

He forged partnerships with other schools like Hilton College to share ideas and resources with his school. He still never gave up on us making sure that the Stats Honours students from the StatsSA co-sponsored lectures of Prof Delia North of UKZN became part of his Saturday Maths classes. The honours students religiously reported for duty in dry dusty Msinga every Saturday morning to teach mathematics from this man taken from us at the tender age of 45. May His Soul Rest In Peace.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and former Head of Statistics South Africa and Dr Miranda Mafafo formerly served in his office on the Maths4Stats Programme. She is now a consultant.

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