Pali Lehohla, former Statistics South Africa head, also thinks free trade contributes to employment creation and increased incomes. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)

JOHANNESBURG – On Sunday, the Lehohla family hosted a function at Hermon in Mafeteng, at a primary school which all of them had attended. They were honouring their brother Dr Pali Lehohla for his achievements throughout his career. This is an edited version of the speech.

THE TEST of humanity's worth among many descriptors to worth is this: always better not to have accolades and deserve them, than to have them when indeed you do not deserve them.

I would then argue that my task today is to be a transmitter of accolades to those more deserving and reflect on those who did the heavy lifting in the life of society in which I am just but a tiny part, yet paradoxically, benefiting immensely from their generosity allowing me the capacity to observe and relate. 

In this respect the Hermon society, the people of Patisi, have been very generous. This once-industrious and productive community, vibrant in all its endeavours, especially the pursuit of education, allowed me the space to learn and be anchored.  

Surprisingly, in all my actions I seem to answer the questions or pose questions for which answers are sought from a perspective of what Hermon or Patisi would have advised – I have always applied the lens of my village of birth. 

Today, the world faces a number of risks from change in climate, food security, the dark side of society of fake news propelled through the ubiquitous information technology, unemployment and in particular youth unemployment, and subsequently the lost dividend of changes in demography. 

The challenges of the here and now, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, add to the risks. But in all these it appears the science of measurement is very important. 

It is important that we know and understand that that future is in our hands and it can only be possible and positive if and when it is shared. A few examples illustrate the point of these deep reflections of experience that anchored my thought.

My two brothers used fairy tales and every night when they were back home they would start with Ba re e ne re.  

I liked the story of Masilo and Masilonyane, but one that was always not so good was the Tsie, the Locusts. It was a story of counting.  

Each locust picking a grain at a time second after second and the fairy tale would go on and on. Whenever my elder brother Hapi was not in the mood for telling a fairy tale he would start with the Locusts. Up to the time I was at university we would play morabaraba – Sesotho chess – with both my elder brothers and different formations such as katapane and chitja.  

This productive village at times faced existential challenges once imposed by my cousin Ramphalali. Usually, each household would have its stack of wheat threshed by the combine and have its chaff for fodder and fuel throughout the winter months on the grounds of the household.  

But post the record snow of 1964, the wheat harvest was so massive that the village decided to have a common threshing point. It made sense as it saved costs in all respects. The real cost was not thought of, but tested through very harsh experience. 

In June of 1965, Ramphalali, having stolen some maize, decided to use chaff to roast it. And where did he built his fire? Next to the community chaff, and in no time the chaff caught fire. It was a bonfire that lasted for days. 

Ramphalali ran for cover to the Free State, where he worked on a farm. The following year, the village was back to its practice of wheat threshed at individual homesteads.  

I thus learned of risk observation and risk management at an early age.  And when it came to processing census data of 1996, I always informed myself of the risk of a national treasure burning down and had to put in place data security measures against fire.

The other is about a group of us, 12 in all. We descended on the peach trees in the school orchard. But Mots’elisi Mokete, the grand daughter to Ntate Moloisane, saw us and screamed at the top of her voice: “I have seen you transgress and I am going to report you.”

That prompted the 12 of us to put on blankets, arm ourselves with sticks and prepare to venture into the Free State offering farm labour.  

We went down the river and had a swim before we proceeded on our journey. Just as we were about to cross the fence into the Free State, one of us exclaimed: “When ntate Mokholoane  Mokete (we called him Radio) gets sent for us on his horse, called Return, our heels and shoulders will be dripping blood.” 

In an instant we abandoned the plan. 

But the question was what happens to us with Mokete the teacher, well known for thrashing scholars at the slightest provocation. We decided to hand ourselves over and apologise. 

We did and the advice we got from him was profound. We saw the reasonable side of this towering and terrifying figure.

My father was a serious environmentalist who taught me about wetlands and how the ecological system worked. 

As regards the effects of wetland systems, we can see now that with the demise of the wetland at Pompong and Mohlakeng because of overgrazing, the water has also dried up in the river, the birds are all gone and the vegetation has disappeared. That once industrious Hermon is a poor shadow of its past.

What then are the lessons for the world from Hermon?  

We can learn about self-correction. We can temper our fears and understand the liberating power of honesty; we can understand why we each need a brother's keeper like Mots’elisi did when she proclaimed that she would report us to the authorities.  

Corruption is eating hard at the spirit of society with corrosive and irreversible damage. We know the dangers of victim-hood that today's liberators are tomorrow's oppressors because deprivation can breed systemic victim-hood if this leadership deficit is not deliberately acted on.

The depth of damage from colonialism should not be underestimated and politicians cannot be trusted with that potential factory fault. 

They have to be schooled and immunised from victim-hood stereotypes and immunised from dictatorial tendencies. We should learn the effects of neglect to the environment, we must be steeped in our history, which is etched in archaeology. 

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former statistician-general of South Africa and former head of Statistics South Africa.

The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of Independent Media.

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