Speech by the Deputy Minister in the Presidency, Mr Buti Manamela, on the occasion of Stats SA Budget Vote 2017/18
18 May 2017
Minister in the Presidency for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, as well as Youth Development and Administration, Mr Jeff Radebe
Ministers and Deputy Ministers
Statistician General, Mr Pali Lehohla
Ladies and gentlemen
The practice of official statistics in South Africa is synonymous to our search for destiny as a nation. When our country emerged from the doldrums of colonialism and apartheid, the need to build a non-racial, non-sexist democratic society was more urgent than ever.
Many institutions were called to place hands on deck to assist us as a nation to navigate the state of transition into a fully functioning state. Stats SA is one of those that were called up to lend a hand in the process of building our new nation. Stats SA was one of those institutions that accepted the responsibility for nation-building — albeit the limited time at hand — and went on to conduct the first ever census in the democratic order.
Census ’96 stands on the shoulders of our emergence into democracy, a chapter that was ushered in in 1994.
There are times when a nation has to take tough choices to define its identity and search for its destiny to be able to survive.
The late Egyptian leader, President Anwar el-Sadat, in his autobiography In Search of Identity, writes:
“Looking into the night sky, I decided that despite everything, now it was the time for my nation to reach a new destiny… I would have to move quickly to take proper advantage of the many favourable factors that were coalescing.”
Destiny and the freedom are like Siamese twins. They are co-joined all the time. As South Africans, we have chosen the kind of destiny that we so yearned to have. While we have attained some form of a destiny, we have not completed the race we are running when the majority of our people still have not achieved a demographic dividend.
Statistical data continue to show that while Blacks in general, and Africans in particular, have made sufficient progress in terms of absolute numbers as regards higher education attainment, the proportions remain a concern.
It's even more concerning when we realize as a nation that Africans and Coloured race groups are lagging behind both educationally and socio-economically. The youth are even more affected than the adult population.
The triple scourge of unemployment, poverty, and inequality continue to harass the majority of our people. Blacks, women and youth face a daunting task of breaking the barriers that constrain them to attain their full potential. Statistics suggest that the minority who are living it off comfortably well cannot even afford to carry the weight and dependency of those who are still caught up within the poverty trap. Something has to be done and has to be done pretty soon.
President Jacob Zuma, on the occasion of the celebration of Freedom Day, on 27th April 2017 in uMhlabuyalingana, reminds us when he said:
“It has been a long road since that watershed general election in 1994 that marked the collapse of racist white rule. The defeat of apartheid colonialism by the South African people was one of the greatest achievements of humankind. As we celebrate the progress made in the past 23 years, we also admit that there is further work to be done… We have achieved political freedom but economic freedom still remains largely elusive. It is for this reason that we speak about radical economic transformation… The majority of black people are still economically disempowered and are dissatisfied with the economic gains from liberation. The level of inequality remains high.”
Destiny cannot mean anything when levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality affect the majority of in our society. This is especially so when the majority were structurally excluded for a long time from any form of meaningful participation on matters than concern them.
We should allow empirical evidence to guide us where we are making gains and where challenges remain. We pride ourselves that Stats SA, as our national statistics agency, continues to have the independence to exercise its professional apparatus to illuminate issues as they are in our society. We all cannot run away from bare facts that are reputable and can stand the test of time.
Equally we cannot look at the official statistics and do nothing, especially in areas where the numbers point out that there are problems. It is for such reasons that we have placed our national statistics agency appropriately side-by-side with the planning function. Planning, monitoring and evaluation need to be oiled with credible data at all times. Stats SA has today come up with a planning framework and inherent planning tools that will take national planning to no parallel.
Stats SA will need to be properly funded to discharge of its duties and responsibilities. Independence is a very interesting issue, for, it remains a lot stronger when it is not curtailed in whatever form. Resource constraint can indirectly compromise the integrity of any independent agency.
For an agency like Stats SA, it would be detrimental when they cannot be fully funded. It would imply that the nation would receive empirical evidence that is limping. A nation that has questionable official figures is doomed to fail. Our elevated planning function as well as the pressing space for radical socio-economic transformation require a well standing statistical agency.
Christopher Scott, in his paper Measuring Up to the Measurement Problem, argues that policy formulation and decision-making that does not follow the culture of empirical evidence is at the mercy of Power and influence of sectional interests, arbitrariness and anecdotes where relatively minor issues− sometimes not even affecting the majority of the people − may achieve unwarranted prominence in the policymaking process.
In our case as a country, we have witnessed a manner in which the National Development Plan (NDP) has gained the acceptance of the entire society. Equally, the official statistics that should support the NDP at all times always gain acceptance across the nation.
This rare opportunity should not be taken for granted, instead it should be utilised to the fullest advantage to benefit our country. We have seen in other country where national plans and their supporting statistics have been the contention for dispute, sometimes to an extent where the nation degenerates into a state of fragility. The experiences of Greece and Argentina are still fresh in our minds. We have a responsibility as a nation to safeguard the interests of our official statistics.
Statistics help us to always shape policy options and to know what assumptions we are making when we embark on particular programs. We have also seen Stats SA’s venture into strengthening the spatial mapping of its data in such a manner that assist users not to be bombarded by large volumes of data to which they cannot geographically relate.
Our Government is serious about providing services to our nation. One of the benefits we derive from official statistics is to randomize the phase-in of policy implementation which in turn give hope to our people that their chance will come the next time around. That way, we will attain a progressive realisation of the notion of a better life for all.
According to Career24, Statistical Analysis and Data Mining ranks the top most demanded skill in South Africa while it ranks second in the world.
Mathematics, science and technology remain a big challenge for the majority of our young people. These challenges are especially so for those in the rural areas where our youth bear the brunt of an apartheid they have never directly witnessed, yet they live through its legacy everyday of their lives.
Thus, their reach for these scarce skills of Statistical Analysis and Data Mining will continue to be a false hope. We all know that colonialism and apartheid have caused so much harm that our country. Both these edifices belong nowhere else than to the dustbin of a history to forget, never to be praised in whatever form.
It irks me greatly to realize that some among our society, including those who masquerade as leaders of our people still have a nostalgic binge for the erstwhile colonial and apartheid tendencies. We should not see their call to return to our difficult past and their praise for that past as an accident.
It is representative of the way they socialize and the manner in which their ideological inclination gravitates.
However, we are not going to allow ourselves to be diverted from defending our hard earned democracy and abandon it just like that. When we finally hand it over, we will hand it to the responsible future generations of our nation. Our common search for identity and destiny cannot be complete until we have taken good care of our young people, for, the future rests with them.
I thank you.