My cabinet colleague, Minister of Finance, the honourable Pravin Gordhan
Chairperson of the Statistics Council
Statistician-General, Dr Pali Lehohla
Director-General of the Department of Public Works, Mr Mziwonke Dlabantu
Auditor-General, Mr Thembekile Kimi Makwetu
Senior Government officials present here
Members of the Statistics Council, past and present
Members of Local Government
Ladies and gentlemen
It is with immense pleasure that I am standing here to witness yet another milestone in our developmental state. For the first time since the dawn of democracy in 1994, we inaugurate a permanent home for Statistics South Africa (Stats SA).
This is indeed an historic moment in our unfolding democracy not only because of the symbolism that the building carries as a home of our national statistics, but also because of the positive impact that this institution will have in the development of our society. There is nothing as liberating as the feeling of knowing that you have your own space. You have a home.
The opening of a Stats SA building is a crucial step in our efforts to build a more prosperous society. Only two years ago, shortly after I was appointed as the Minister in the Presidency responsible for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, I had the privilege of presiding over the sword turning ceremony to mark the construction of this building.
On that occasion, I indicated that information is freedom. It liberates us.
Barely two years later, we return to this site, Salvokop, having fulfilled our promise. Today, we have IsiBalo House standing firmly alongside the Freedom Park, itself a historic site in our democratic dispensation. We once again reiterate our conviction that information is freedom — for knowledge and information can only make us wiser.
Scholars and other experts preoccupied with the origins of words, point the origins of the word “statistics” to “status.” This is very easy to decipher because statistics signify the conditions of the state, that is, they provide factual information about our society. Statistics are therefore one of the fundamental pillars of governance. Without out them, there can be no barometers.
It has become a norm in the modern society that information about all facets of life is available at our fingertips. Statistical facts and indicators continue to be a reality-check for those of us who are in public office. Even those of us who are not so much arithmetically gifted understand the importance of numbers.
Statistics are not only crucial in assessing our current status, but they form the basis of any future planning. For without indicators, without comparative data of any kind, it is nearly impossible to set yourself any growth targets or even judge your own progress. It is like embarking on a journey with no destination.
Statistics hold a more valuable meaning to our lives than just being mere numbers. American writer, Patrick Rothfuss, in his book The Wise Man’s Fear, puts it eloquently when he says:
“I am no poet. I do not love words for the sake of words. I love words for what they can accomplish. Similarly, I am no arithmetician. Numbers that speak only of numbers are of little interest to me.”
We have seen over the years how the indicators released by Stats SA impact on our lives. At times we may not favour the indicators reported by Stats SA, but that does not dispute the fact that they are a true reflection of our current condition.
When you look at a mirror and you don’t like what you see, do you break the mirror or you start working on changing your image? This is the challenge that Stats SA presents to us both as government and as the nation at large.
Quite recently, Stats SA released a report confirming the grim reality that there is increasing youth unemployment in our country. I am using “confirmed” as the operative word because we always knew that there was unemployment crisis in our country and especially among the youth. What Stats SA has done, is to produce evidence based indicators.
Being in possession of that kind empirical evidence helps us consider mitigating factors and plan accordingly.
One of the most crucial plans that have been produced in our democratic dispensation is the National Development Plan (NDP), which was adopted by cabinet in 2012. The NDP serves as the blueprint that informs growth strategies and sets targets for our country in our collective march towards the year 2030.
Employment creation, alongside the eradication of abject poverty and reduction of gross inequalities are some of the core priorities of the NDP.
In the current Medium Term Strategic Framework (MTSF), covering the period 2014 – 2019, we have prioritised 14 Outcomes as a way of measuring our current performance against our long-term goals. These priority outcomes reflect the milestones that we have to achieve in order for us to be on par with the development targets of Vision 2030.
Ladies and Gentlemen, you can see that these future growth plans and strategies are informed by our current statistical evidence. Those who continue to ignore statistics do so at their own peril. We know that for any democracy to survive, it has to draw its strength from the will of the people.
Democracy thrusts the responsibility to those in public office to implement the collective wishes of the people. These tenets oblige the government to mobilise all necessary resources to implement programs of the state effectively and efficiently. The state continues to be the locus for the responsible dispensing of resources so that those who have always yearned for freedom can have improved and more prosperous living conditions.
In our case as South Africa, government has to contend with matters of redistribution of resources for the majority of our people who have been marginalised for a long time, in such a manner that we can achieve the noble dream of a better life for all. All these ambitions can be achieved if we have numbers that stand the test of integrity.
It is worth noting that before this building was constructed, Stats SA was scattered through four buildings stretched between the city centre and Pretoria North. Today, Stats SA staff members have been brought together as a family under one precinct.
All of them can now claim allegiance to ISIbalo House as their home. Isibalo is a Nguni word for a mathematical sum, lending its root from ukubala – to count. Ukubala is the core business of Stats SA. This is indeed a fitting name for the Stats SA building, for this building houses the gurus of ukubala in the country!
ISIbalo House has been constructed at the tune of about R1.4 billion. It is the initiative of our government to encourage Public Private Partnerships in the construction industry. This project has brought national government departments, the Gauteng Provincial Government, and the Tshwane Metro as well as the private sector to pull together in a manner that continues to assure us that working together we can do it.
I am proud to say that the project to build this state of the art building took only eighteen months to complete. There is a considerable number of jobs that were created during the construction phase and we trust that more jobs will be created in the future. This is in line with our Extended Public Works Programme which seeks to create jobs for our people.
The jobs created here at ISIbalo House have touched the lives of our people, especially the youth in the neighbouring community, some of whom are landing a job for the first time. We hope to see more of these kinds of initiatives. Our society needs such partnerships between the public and the private sector, so that it can shake off the challenges of economic distress that visit nations from time to time.
I marvel at the appropriate naming of this building, so befitting as if the whole notion of counting since time immemorial begins here at ISIbalo House. Of course, the official practice of measurement in our country sits at this house.
The Ochre Stone, with its magnificent history, marks the arrival to this House. Historians have always told us that base-10 counting started in Africa, particularly in Southern Africa. The stone, with its origins in Blombos Cave, 300km east of Cape Town attests to this historic notion.
The Ochre Stone at the gates of ISIbalo House symbolises the handing over of the baton to Stats SA to continue with the race of measurement. Such a race should occur within the context of a data revolution that the whole world is currently seized with. Stats SA conducted the Customer Satisfaction Survey (CSS) in KwaZulu-Natal in 2015 and the Community Survey 2017 using computer assisted personal interviews (CAPI).
This was a ground-breaking deployment of technology that has seen Stats SA cut down on the time from data collection to launching of results to two months, a far cry from the twelve months that we had witnessed before. This disruptive technology comes as a beachhead to challenge the traditional methods of data collection.
So what is demanded of Stats SA is a complete culture change to accommodate the advent of technology and data revolution combined. We have known throughout history that societies that fail to adapt to technological changes have become obsolete.
It is twenty-two years since the dawn of democracy in our country, Stats SA has become a household brand of official statistics. As Stats SA expands its footprint throughout the country, we should do so in such a manner that does not let success breed complacency.
Lest we forget, this is the same Stats SA that was called upon by President Mandela two years into democracy to conduct the historic Census ’96. This census forms the bedrock upon which the planning for our then newly acquired democracy was based.
This census was followed by other censuses of 2001 and 2011. We know that it is through these experiences that South Africa – presiding over the Africa Symposium on Statistical Development (ASSD) − went on to assist other sister countries on the African continent undertake their censuses under the 2010 Round of Population and Housing Censuses.
Through the ASSD, 50 out of 54 countries were able to undertake their censuses. Even the new nation of South Sudan was able to conduct her census. The jury is still out for the 2020 round and we know that Africa will not fail again.
We have watched with awe the function of statistics in our country advancing to the level of a world status. Today Stats SA is a global player in matters of statistical development. President Jacob Zuma, at the opening of the 57th Session of the International Statistics Institute in Durban, on 16 August 2009, said:
“We do not take for granted the fact that in 2003 you decided to bring your biennial sitting to sub-Saharan Africa for the first time in the institute’s 124-year history. This indicates your commitment to African and world statistical progress and to supporting much-needed development in the world. It is wonderful to see that this commitment is finding expression in that, for the first time, one-quarter of all delegates are from Africa. The discussions around Africa’s developmental agenda must provide a new direction in debates regarding statistical capacity-building on the African continent.”
As the President directed in 2009, we have gone to build the capacity of our national statistics institutions. Today, we are pleased to announce that Stats SA will be hosting the first-ever United Nations World Data Forum in Cape Town from 15-18 January 2017. Hosting this forum is no small feat and I look forward to seeing many of you down in Cape Town.
As I conclude, let me take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to all the role players who contributed to the construction of this building. I commend particularly the Statistician-General, Dr Pali Lehohla, and the entire leadership of Stats SA for ensuring that this building is constructed on time and within the prescripts of governance.
In the same vein, I extend my word of gratitude to the Statistics Council under the Chairpersonship of Mr Ben Mphahlele, for their unrelenting support and executing the task of advising me and the Statistician-General with laudable excellence.
I would like to thank in absentia my cabinet colleague, the Minister of Public Works, honourable Thulas Nxesi, for seeing to it that this building is constructed and completed in record time. I trust that the Director-General of Public Works, Mr Dlabantu, will convey our message of gratitude to the Minister.
It is such a great pleasure to have in our midst, the former Executive Mayor of the City of Tshwane, Kgosientsho Ramakgoba, whom I am told went beyond the call of duty to ensure that the construction is a resounding success. We cannot thank you enough for the role that you played, Mr Kgosientsho.
I would be remise if I did not acknowledge all those who rolled their sleeves and dirtied their hands to do construction work — from the first brick laid on the foundation to the last nail hammered on the roof of this building.
The consortiums and workers involved at various stages of construction — from architects, engineers, bricklayers and all other forms of labour, we thank you all for your hard work, fortitude and dedication.
Today Stats SA has a home, Stats SA has acquired a new status. This building should be home not only to Stats SA staff members, but also to the community that surrounds it as well as the public at large and within the context of Batho Pele principles. More people should know about the work of Stats SA and how it impacts on the lives of ordinary citizens.
I am truly honoured to have been entrusted with this responsibility of officially opening Isibalo House as the home of national statistics office in South Africa.
Fellow South Africans, I have the pleasure of declaring Isibalo House open!
I thank you.