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

SA ignoring vital lessons from its sibling Rwanda

By Pali Lehohla Time of article published Sep 19, 2021

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IN 2010, NIGERIAN intellectual and former director of the African Institute of Economic Development and Planning Adebayo Olukoshi, and I were part of a team of four assigned to undertake a review of the Human Science Research Council.

After providing an analysis of the problem, Adebayo concluded, to our amazement, that parts of the system were “uselessed”. He had turned an adjective into a verb.

He explained how the term “uselessing” in Nigeria describes, in large part, the mismanagement and corruption that had come to define Nigeria as a country and a people in common parlance.

South Africa having been the last to be liberated from colonial and apartheid domination in Africa has had major benefit of learning from the 60-year experience of those that got independence before it, and this includes Nigeria. Or in fact has it?

South Africa and Rwanda are twins. Although the birth of Rwanda was a rebirth, it provided South Africa a sibling with whom it would grow.

Yet at the end of 27 years, Rwanda, the sibling, torn by genocide and hopelessness 27 years ago, and South Africa, a twin that at was birth filled with hope and a proud history of struggle, has emerged differently.

Rwanda has become a doyen of the continent and a symbol of hope and what is possible.

South Africa decided to commit its own mistake and not learn from the 60 years of its sibling.

Neither did it watch its sibling, Rwanda, carefully to draw lessons from its hopelessness 27 years ago and its journey of rebirth.

Adebayo’s Nigerian lexicon of “uselessing” is very relevant in understanding what happened in South Africa, especially in the past 13 years and in the context of state capture.

The common narrative applied in interpreting what happened to South Africa is that of repurposing the state.

This is correct but only partially. The definition falls short if it does not have its twin concept of “uselessing”.

Repurposing can only be successful when it is accompanied by “uselessing”.

South Africa has used the concept hollowing the capacity of the state. Hollowing means removing.

But were the administration and the administrators removed?

They were not; they certainly are still there. This is both in the public and the private sector.

What in fact happened is they got “uselessed”.

First, the Scorpions got “uselessed“because they were converted into the Hawks.

Second, the prosecution and the parole systems were also “uselessed”.

The task of addressing the massive destruction of the South African edifice and economy has to address a two-pronged challenge.

The one is of repurposing which facilitated looting on a massive scale and the other is of addressing “uselessing”, which is the act of crippling appropriate response.

The contestation of medical parole of the former president by the director-general of correctional services is about whether he has “uselessed” the decision by the Constitutional Court to incarcerate the former president.

“Uselessing” demoralises and defeats appropriate action while repurposing serves the intention to loot. Ours is a land of repurposing and “uselessing”.

We should do what we should and not what we can to fight this twin malaise. Adebayo Olukoshi has added a tool of experience and analysis to our arsenal.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former statisticiangeneral of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa. Met him www.pie.org.za and @palilj01.

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

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