JOHANNESBURG – In 1993 we were not very different economically from where we are today, with the exception of high interest rates. Economic growth was low and debt to gross domestic product ratio was very high. In fact, the South African government was bankrupt.
Property prices plummeted.
The only statistic we could not vouch for with confidence was unemployment, because it was not measured. We were immersed in social strife, open conflict, maiming of men by men and high murder rates sponsored by political conflict.
As these raged and we approached the democratic elections, many were swearing by hopelessness while others were so hopeful that these polarised positions became visibly stark.
The election was held and a new government was put in place with very little experience to govern, but armed with the generosity of purpose and an immense capacity of will to lead. So there we were – a miracle nation was born.
I recall how exciting the time was.
I was the director for Bophuthatswana Statistics, and the four years from 1992 to 1996 passed without notice. It was at a time when the Southern African Tswana Forum option was explored by Bophuthatswana.
Professor John Kahimbaara and I examined emergent options and came across work done by Professor Herman Geyer of Potchefstroom, who is an expert in regional science and the space economy.
Professor Job Mokgoro had just been appointed an administrator as Bophuthatswana crumbled and he provided the right environment for us to pursue the spatial reconfiguration of the North West and the Statistics Office became the centre pin of technical advice.
Kahimbaara, Geyer and I traversed the North West Province and attended national and provincial technical workshops on demarcation and creation of the Transitional Local Councils (TLC).
We presented the technical rationale for demarcation of the province internally, including advising Premier Popo Molefe that the evidence of regional science suggested that he would have to hand over Garankuwa and Moretele in the east of the province and Pampierstad and surrounds in the west.
The programme was not without resistance and political debate. Messrs Du Plessis, Kenif and Wolmarans, who represented the old, were always on hand to put up a stiff fight against Messrs Leshaba, Nchochoba and Molobi, who were the young lions.
I would never forget the event where Molobi and Leshaba stormed our office with only one question of in which TLC, one of the important economic centres, should fall, a matter we had pointed to already.
What resulted was a tricky balance to apply science to determine boundaries, but also to allow politics to drive the necessary compromises that arose, including transitional arrangements for those compromises. As the changes took root we pointed to the importance of geographic names and an orderly change of those. But above all, we said the miracle of a peaceful transition was acknowledged. However, a revolution is always long and painful and what South Africa entered was nothing short of a miracle, but also nothing short of a revolution – a long and painful struggle.
The last thing we expected was that our hopes would be drowned in femicide and infanticide as a new paradigm to which South African has shifted – a sign of a leaderless revolution. Where will our will to lead come from?
Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and a former head of Statistics South Africa. Meet him at www.pie.org.za and @PaliLehohla