It is time we should keep, always

2018-07-29 12:03
Former Statistician-General Pali Lehohla (GCIS)

Former Statistician-General Pali Lehohla (GCIS)

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Arriving from Mmabatho in North West to take up residence in Pretoria in July 1995 was quite some change. I stayed in a hotel for almost a year before my family joined me in July the following year.

Pretoria Hof was my base and near to Steyns Building, where the Central Statistical Services (now known as Stats SA) was located. We went searching for a house in August. Although I had already gone through two properties before, I often found going through rooms in houses to be intrusive.

After going through seven properties, my son was excited by the one uphill in Silverton. He remarked that it had a swimming pool, even though all the other houses we had seen also had pools.

The elderly couple who lived in the home were retired civil servants, and conversant with what is available for civil servants on transfer when they acquire property. They were moving to a smaller property, and said they could not take their domestic servants with them. They recommended the workers highly, and the choice remained ours.

The two were a couple, and the husband also worked at three other places. We decided to keep them. A decision so correct that we never regretted. We became part of their family. Although the wife had to leave our employ in 2011 due to ill health, the husband continues to be part of us.

After a long illness, Ellen Mokgotho succumbed and we laid to rest her mortal remains in Rankaila village Kwa-Phake, about 50km outside of Pretoria.

The funeral had many firsts for me. The most surprising was that the husband sat on a mattress surrounded by his two sisters, and he remained in mourning for a month. During this period he had to be back in the house by 4pm.

There is an important lesson for society and government that I witnessed: the discipline in the community. This is why I felt the provocation to pen my experience.

While I am used to funerals that start by 6.30am in this part of our world, what surprised me most was the adherence not only to time, but also to the roles and responsibilities of each member of the community. This was from the priests to the grave diggers, all respecting the rule of their laws. They did not forget to take pride in this practice, and said they wanted to influence others towards the same ethos.

The master of ceremonies ruled supreme. He reminded the mourners of the importance of the grave diggers and how they respect time. The cortege of mourners had to be at the gates of the graveyard at 7.55am, and a set of rules were explained, including silence and switching off of mobile phones. Should this not be observed, the society is fined, and the cellphones of errand members are confiscated.

The programme started at 7.01am. The MC called for speeches no longer than three minutes, and speaker after speaker complied, including myself. I was pretty surprised at the volume of quality information that emerged out of this parliamentary-style three-minute rule. The priest was given 10 minutes, and then the cortege left for the graveyard.

At exactly 7.55am we were at the gates of the graveyard, where instructions were hailed to the mourners by the leader of the grave diggers. The diggers provided a guard of honour and once mourners had congregated around the grave, they did the necessary. Within minutes the grave was filled.

While members of the society certainly suffer high levels of unemployment, and the grave diggers are youthful, the society imbues solidarity and discipline.

The funeral of the woman who brought up my three sons has taught me a few profound lessons.

Her village showed that communities can shape their destinies, which is a crucial feature of local government. This is contingent on discipline, clarity of roles, time-keeping and ensuring that everyone is important.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, upon taking the reins, spoke about “it is time”, and we should keep time. The village of Rankaila in Kwa-Phake has led the way, and holds dear the Thuma Mina ethos.

- Lehohla is the former statistician-general

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