Former Statistician-General for Statistics South Africa Pali Lehohla reflects on the role Statistics SA's has played in training people as South Africa requires deep thinking during the current Covid-19 crises.

Picture: Thobile Mathonsi
Former Statistician-General for Statistics South Africa Pali Lehohla reflects on the role Statistics SA's has played in training people as South Africa requires deep thinking during the current Covid-19 crises. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi

The role of probable spatial progression and Covid-19

By Dr Pali Lehohla Time of article published Apr 1, 2020

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PRETORIA- As the coronavirus shell-shocks the nation, South Africans have put on their boots and thinking caps to attack the pandemic.

As President Cyril Ramaphosa has said, it is all hands on deck. 

Gauteng is at the epicentre of the pandemic, which saw Premier David Makhura on Sunday presiding over a visit that explored the spatial evolution of the pandemic.  

The visitors were from the Presidency, including Sputla Ramokgopa, the deputy minister in the Presidency  and one of the officials, Dr Tshepo Mabela.

Mabela unveiled the probable spatial progression and intensity of the pandemic - an information base that assists in understanding  its patterns of manifestations.  Mabela invokes a sense of history as part of her technical training comes from measures put in place by Statistics SA.

Mabela is deploying her skills of regional science of hot spot analysis to detect the Coronavirus evolution and flatten the curve. 

As Mabela uses technical competencies for spatial tracking of phenomena, such as the Coronavirus,  the Centre for Regional and Urban Innovation and Statistical Exploration (CRUISE) at the University of Stellenbosch played a big role in Mabela's training background.

How did the centre come into existence?

In 1992, perturbed by the Satswa Option as a political settlement option advocated by the then Bophuthatswana government, I got hold of Professor Hermanus Geyer at the 
University of Potchefstroom to discuss this matter as I saw it as a serious social, political and economic anomaly. 

At the end of the meeting, I told Geyer that he should open a centre for introducing statisticians to and training them in regional science. 

To start the centre I would get funding from the government. 

It took another 18 years for the dream to be realised.

For a variety of reasons, the centre ended up not being opened in Potchefstroom but in Stellenbosch. 

I secured funding from Statstics SA and allocated it to the establishment of CRUISE at the University of Stellenbosch.  The centre was led for the last ten years by Geyer, who retired at the end of 2019.  

When he retired Geyer at that point had produced in excess of 70 MPhil graduates from StatsSA  at this centre.

Many of these like Mabela already had a PhD or Masters. They enrolled at the centre on study leave from StatsSA on a full time basis for a year.  On a two yearly basis we convened the ISIbalo CRUISE summits at the University of Stellenbosch to show case the outputs of the centre. 

In fact in his annual report, Geyer showed that the centre had the highest number of research outputs at the University.  

The flavour of this is crucial.  In this regard their research papers have practical applications to policy. 

Dr Arul Naidoo worked on geographically weighted regression, which has applications to understand the manifestation of the spread of disease such as Coronavirus. 

His work enquired in the performance of schools at the community level and through hotspot analysis facilitated by geographically weighted regression analysis he showed that the trajectory of development can be better enlightened.  

Dr Mohlabane Morudu worked on Zipf, which led me to accept the Statistics Council’s advice for a ten yearly interval census instead of one every five years given the predictive power of Zipf.  

We could estimate population at lower levels of geography with great precision. 

Dr Christine Khoza evaluated the Maputo corridor as an economic development catalyst.  She concluded that it had limited effect. 

However, it increased trade between Mozambique and South Africa. 

The critique was that the Maputo corridor was too long.  

Risenga Maluleke, the current Statistician General of South Africa, explored a geographically driven approach to assessing undercount in population censuses in South Africa. 

I sent Mabela to CRUISE as the sixth batch of staff from StatsSA. Upon her return from CRUISE she joined the Presidency in 2017.

She is deploying her skills of regional science of hot spot analysis to detect the Coronavirus evolution. 

StatsSA grew by stature and relevance as a consequence of this training.  Building human resources requires deep thinking, it is not a luxury it is an obligation. I was pleased by what I saw in Gauteng.  

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of Lesotho and former head of Statistics South Africa.  Meet him on www.pie.org.za and @plilj01

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