Pali Lehohla
Pali Lehohla

Why do we live with so many manufactured tragedies?

By Pali Lehohla Time of article published Jan 29, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG - The Statistician-General, Risenga Maluleke, released numbers that should worry policymakers and make us gloomy.

He said in 2019 business liquidations increased by 10.7percent, building on earlier liquidations of 3.4percent and 1.2percent in 2017 and 2018, respectively. Furthermore, mining production dropped by 3.1percent year-on-year in November 2019.

He will be releasing two more sets of numbers in February, first the fourth quarter quarterly labour force survey and the gross domestic product (GDP) in addition to 20 or so releases scheduled for February.

These are on the back of 3000 jobs to be axed by Telkom, 24 shopping outlets at Massmart, other retrenchments scheduled in the mining sector as well as the more than three-year historical consideration to retrench 30000 in the government.

One thing that is clear in South Africa is that dysfunction has become systemic. The shoot-first-and-aim-later approach leads to a lack of confidence in the government, exacerbated by the impunity with which wrongdoing is flaunted in South African faces. When will the country learn from its repeated mistakes?

The country’s children are being killed by the lack of planning.

In Refentse, previously known as Stinkwater, three precious lives were lost on December 27 last year in this waterlogged Pretoria park.

Heavy rains caused Centurion to be flooded. However, in prior years water would drain into the Centurion Lake.

However, last year the government decided to fill the Centurion Lake as it had become a health hazard and in order to eliminate the stench that emanated from it. Whatever drainage plan was implemented needs to be looked into, because the evidence suggests it didn’t work.

With the concreting over of the lake the onward pathway, or drainage for water disappeared and this led to its destructive spread across Centurion Lake Hotel and nearby neighbourhoods.

Then there is the recent drowning of Enoch Mpianzi of Parktown Boys’ High School in Johannesburg, which shook South Africa, for us only to find out to our collective surprise that in fact four more children drowned at Nyati school camp since 1999.

Many more manufactured tragedies like rape, murder, neglect and abuse of children are rife in our land.

This has prompted President Cyril Ramaphosa to lament how we have failed and continue to fail our children.

This misfortune favours black children, as black schools do not have swimming pools where children are guided on how to manage and get competent in swimming. Children love to play in water.

With planning, more water deaths can be prevented.

I have, and I will argue, that we are so sloppy in planning and that we have resigned ourselves to fate.

Let us remind ourselves of Madiba’s advice on planning.

From prison to Adelaide Tambo in 1968 Madiba wrote thus: “Significant progress is always possible if we ourselves plan every detail and allow intervention of fate only on our own terms. Preparing a master plan and applying it are totally different things”.

God forbid, were the deadly Coronavirus to visit South Africa.

There would be inter-ministerial committee after committee because the country neither has a disaster master plan nor a detailed action plan.

However, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni is certainly equally concerned. He does not sleep well.

In a tweet at 3m he writes: “I suppose that my request from you ALL are scientific ideas on how we can do things differently to get unto a higher real GDP growth trajectory. Our country is in need of that. Not slogans! [email protected] How to engender more jobs. Good talking.” But planning is not about soliciting hundreds of inputs.

The paper by Treasury titled, Economic Transformation, Inclusive Growth and Competitiveness - Towards an Economic Strategy for South Africa, raised key issues to be addressed, but failed dismally and upfront in its modelling exercise to deliver what it purports at all three levels of the expectations of the National Development Plan - output, outcome and was silent on impact.

First, lets examine output.

At the level of output, which is measured as growth (GDP), at the most the document expects the interventions to generate an annual growth of 3.7percent. As a corollary, basic economic theory shows that such lacklustre growth cannot create jobs anyway. The document in terms of outcomes delivers a meagre one million jobs in 10 years.

In 10 years from the wasted children who do not reach matric, they will join the reserve army of the unemployed. The number of unemployed will reach 16 million. The document is mum on impact measured in poverty and inequality. Maluleke drew from his near empty tank of fresh data and said in his August 2019 report that in fact poverty was increasing, so was inequality.

What is needed for economic policy is the kind of genuine engagement that we had in preparing the Reconstruction and Development Programme document leading to 1994.

Only then can the numbers of Maluleke provide the science and Mboweni can immerse himself in science and South Africa can hope for better and escape the devouring cynicism.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former statistician-general and the former head of Statistics South Africa. Meet him on and on Tweeter @PaliLehohla


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