Growing up in rural Limpopo, Risenga Maluleke, statistician-general and head of Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), wasn’t aware that a subject field such as statistics existed.
He discovered it as a student at the University of Limpopo and a whole new world opened for him. He graduated with a BSc degree in mathematical statistics and started his career in the Gazankulu Bantustan government’s Statistics department in November 1992, before the country’s official statistics function was centralised in the form of Stats SA after 1994.
Risenga joined Stats SA as a manager at the Limpopo provincial office in 1997 and 20 years later, in 2017, he replaced outgoing statistician-general Pali Lehohla who had served as the head of the organisation for 17 years. Before becoming statistician-general, Risenga served as a deputy director-general for statistical collections and outreach.
He has completed senior executive programmes with Wits and Harvard Business Schools and is a graduate of the Centre for Regional and Urban Innovation and Statistical Exploration (CRUISE), situated in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Stellenbosch University (SU).
He completed an MPhil in urban and regional science at CRUISE in 2011 and was one of the first group of students to obtain this degree at the centre. CRUISE was established at SU in 2009 with the financial support of Stats SA and is part of a drive to advance science education in the Southern African region.
Stats SA is the key producer of official statistics and generates reports on various subjects, including the country’s GDP, unemployment figures, consumer price inflation and produce inflation, as well as the national census.
“Official statistics are not only about samples, surveys and censuses – it is about human life and the circumstances surrounding it. We are there when people are born, we are there throughout their life and we are there when they die,” says Risenga.
The information gathered by Stats SA is critical for planning and development purposes, as well as for use by government, business, trade unions, and other economic actors and ordinary people.
According to Risenga, the main challenges that Stats SA is facing include keeping up with changes in technology and methods of collecting information, as well as a scarcity of resources.
“As a developing nation, we continue to struggle to find the resources to bolster and support key programmes in statistical development. We also need to review our methods of collection from time to time. Despite these challenges, the work still needs to be done,” he adds.
Risenga is motivated by the trust the public puts in Stats SA to inform them about issues as well as the excellence with which staff members of Stats SA, regardless of their rank, perform their tasks.
“Their commitment motivates me, and it makes me realise that I have more work to do in leading this organisation so that we can fulfil our responsibility in building and contributing to the development of our nation.”
- By Pia Nänny -