Pali Lehohla says the governing ANC has been blowing hot and cold on existing demarcation of provinces. File Photo: IOL
JOHANNESBURG – Nigeria ballooned from about six to 36 states in a very short space of time. The growth and multiplicity of states is a consequence of organising space in homogenous regions and facilitation of patronage.

In South Africa, the governing ANC has been blowing hot and cold on whether provinces are a necessary interim structure of our geopolitics.

This brings to bear the central question of whether [email protected] has reinforced the apartheid regional space or restructured it - a matter of regional science.

As we conclude 25 years of freedom, I cannot help but recall the excitement and inspiration that the advent of democracy brought. The economy was almost in this shape.

Yet despite the doldrums of unemployment, grinding poverty, lack of education and violence that accompanied the years, they were overshadowed by the human spirit to overcome. Victory was in sight.

From different parts of the country many played big and small parts and the symphony of all this was one of hope. It was one which would boldly draw from late former president Nelson Mandela’s spirit of things always seeming impossible until it is done.

The difference now is that we went on a free fall. Each emergent slant opened up another free fall almost world without end. The question is whether the free fall can be converted into a buoyant march up slope.

More specifically at the time when the three of us - Professor Geyer, Professor Kahimbaara and I - were engaged in an intense intellectual and action research on regionalisation of South Africa. From 1992-1993 Kahimbaara interrogated what the future of statistics in the new South Africa would be - a task joined later by Risenga Maluleke - the current statistician general in 1995.

No sooner had this discussion emerged than the Bophuthatswana government explored what was then referred to as the Satswa Option. This fired up our level of inquisitiveness as we thought it would seriously run against what we had conceived as a constellation of statistical regions.

As we researched, we came across a journal article from a professor of regional science, Manie Geyer, who was based at Potchefstroom University.

We enlisted his intellect immediately and put in place a programme that would intellectually engage the spatial reconfiguration of South Africa.

With the fall of Bophuthatswana and the appointment of Job Mokgoro as the interim administrator, our intellectual project of functional space versus homogenous geography got well under way. This work would see us criss-crossing the North West in the quest for creating regions that would be meaningful for the new South Africa.

Buoyed by the support and success in placing the notion of spatial reconfiguration, Mokgoro would catapult us into the national space where we visited provinces and addressed national directors general on how and what should inform the spatial reconfiguration of the non-racial and democratic South Africa.

And to this end we would need to move rapidly from homogenous regions to those that are functional. We pointed out to the North West administration that they would have to lose the Odi region to Gauteng and the Taung region to the Northern Cape. This notion was objected to strongly by some who advised that North West would lose revenue and should not follow our recommendations.

Science-based statecraft appealed to Premier Popo Molefe and his council of legislators. They listened to the science-based logic and the parts of North West were ceded to the respective provinces.

We also made known what changes should take place in other provinces to include areas such as Matatiele, Manamulele, Khutsong and many others which failed the test of functional space in the form they were proposed and continue to be implemented. Our intellectual input went further to discuss the size and shape of municipalities and pointed to those that would not qualify when the criteria of functional space was applied.

As the logic of politics took precedence, our North West-based platform failed to as national intellectual forces took over.

The set of municipalities were numerous, numbering upwards of 800. They were revised downwards, but not to the desired functional possibilities. They therefore continued to service patronage and place our social, economic and political being rather precarious space.

Realising the social, economic and political import of regional science, in 1993, I asked Geyer to establish a programme at Potchefstroom to train statisticians in regional science.

This dream eventuated 17 years later in 2010, when I established a chair of Regional Science at Stellenbosch and the Centre for Regional and Urban Innovation and Statistical Exploration (Cruise) as the statistician general with then soon to retire Geyer as its first director.

Statistics South Africa (StatsSA) was never going to be the same. Maluleke, and a cohort of 12 opened doors for what has now generated over 70 senior staff members from StatsSA who are MPhil graduates and counting, in regional science from Cruise.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and former Head of Statistics South Africa. The views expressed here are his own.

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