Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi
Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi

Tribute to a gracious queen

By Opinion Time of article published Dec 7, 2020

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By Pali Lehohla

MY EARLY days in Bophuthatswana in 1982 were dedicated to understanding the statistics office and desktop analysis of reports and methods, particularly focussing on the census reports.

In 1993 I was assigned to implementing a census in 1985. The system, given its rural populace, was largely run on chieftaincy.

I spent time with Khosi Montshiwa in Mahikeng, Moiloloa in Linokana, Zibi in Khayakhulu, Mankuroane in and Mabe in Mabeskraal.

But I first I visited Khosi Molotlegi of the Bafokeng in Phokeng. The territory of the Bakgatla is well endowed with mining resources. A classical place capturing this is Sifikile north of Saulspoort next to Sun City.

This is a place dominated by Xhosa women from the Eastern Cape who came there to claim back their husbands from Batswana women. Sifikile means “we have arrived”.

We visited Molotlegi’s palace on a Saturday morning.

The Queen, Mme Semane received us graciously and served us biscuits and coffee while we waited for the regent.

Our mission was to let the king know of the upcoming census of Bophuthatswana in

1985 and the attendant preparations required. An hour passed and the queen came and apologised that the king has had to rush to Rustenburg and we could rearrange a new appointment.

The queen had an ability to make one very comfortable. The census was administered well in Phokeng with the count confronted by severe agitation.

First there was general displeasure by the liberation movements towards a census. As a corollary, the king had to flee South Africa in 1991 at the time when we were conducting the census and this made the task completely impossible.

The response on the ground was that we were agents of then ruler Lucas Mangope and were there to collect the information to identify those to be attacked by the then Bophuthatswana regime.

We were caught in the middle and had to withdraw from Phokeng to let matters cool down a bit.

In 1996, I was invited at the Royal Palace to discuss census and the king was eager to know about migration of Phokeng citizens - the mushrooming shack settlements particularly in Pikinini Transkei and the hope was that we could provide the data on the citizens.

The king’s entourage was rather disappointed that we classified people by their nationality that it would be quite difficult to distinguish nationality within a nationality.

I next met the queen twenty five years later in Kampala, Uganda at the Monyonyo lodge where they had converged.

I introduced myself and exchanged pleasantries with Her Majesty. Queen Semane Molotlegi is no more. Her community, the Bafokeng are said to be the richest community in Africa. While the king was in exile, the matriarch held fort. May Her Soul Rest in Peace.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa

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