It also helps to detect frailties and route causes as well as the course to be followed as problems manifest themselves.
Such a process is intelligible, auditable and builds on a fundamental knowledge basis through which a country can be run.
It is in this that the words of wisdom from Madiba still resonate. Writing to Adelaide Tambo he said: “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 two different things.”
Yet in my village of Qibing, in the beautiful Mafeteng district of Lesotho, these words possibly counted for very little. A certain agricultural extension officer Molefe was once transferred to replace the long-serving Lephoole. Lephoole was much younger than Molefe. But Molefe was more sophisticated in terms of outward trappings. He rode a motorcycle while Lephoole rode a horse.
Every afternoon - without fail - the community, women and children would congregate at the theatre of change, a community garden that was the centre of activity.
It produced all kinds of vegetables and each household was allocated a stripe of plots. The community would congregate to plant, weed, irrigate and pluck vegetables for evening meals.
Molefe realised that there were three policy positions that needed to be addressed on the community garden. First, the village had grown, second, a school feeding scheme programme had been introduced and thirdly the irrigation system needed to be modernised. Molefe took these issues head-on.
Molefe wanted to extend the plots to accommodate the growing number of households, the community garden to supply vegetables to the school, and as a corollary, he, as the extension office, wanted to provide a water pump that would bring the water closer to the community garden. On paper, this plan looked great. But remember Madiba warns us that “Preparing a master plan and applying it are two different things.”
First, the expansion of the plots was towards a reed-infested area. Once the line of the reeds was crossed, the reed just invaded the entirety of the plots. The community then had to spend more time weeding than ploughing. Second, as fate would have it, one of the naughty boys in the village, Makae, used the metal pipe as something to ride. The pipe broke and the tap was not fixed.
His parents would also not take responsibility for his ill deeds.
And to make matters worse, the village started complaining about having to feed children from other villages. The catchment area of the community garden was smaller than the catchment area of the school, so suddenly the village was burdened with children who did not belong to the community.
The three instances formed a perfect storm that destroyed the village production system.
The community garden of Qibing collapsed never to rise again.
South Africa is replete with Qibing-like community projects such as the drought that hit the Western Cape in the past season.
We, therefore, need to heed Madiba’s call for planning as a discipline so that the intervention of fate can be on our own terms.
* Dr Pali Lehohla is the former statistician-general of South Africa and former head of Statistics South Africa.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.