April 2021

President's Column

Warren Brettenny

19 April 2021

In preparation for writing this column, I read through the columns of my predecessors as President of SASA. The first thing that struck me was the high calibre of academic and professional that have occupied this position before me, and I feel humbled to join their ranks. What was also striking was how clearly and definitively the world, and the community as we know it, has changed since the last column was penned.

As vice-president in 2020, I found myself on the executive committee in a period of considerable challenges and uncertainties. Since these were a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, these challenges were not limited to my role on the executive committee – but also in my role as head of the Department of Statistics at Nelson Mandela University. It is in these roles that the organisational impact of such a debilitating time became overwhelming apparent. As an organisation SASA needed to make tough decisions early and consider circumstances which were unfathomable just a few weeks prior.

Having returned from a conference trip to Boston just a few days earlier, I was back in Johannesburg in January 2020 for my first meeting of the Executive Committee (EC). It was here that I saw the dedication and passion of a handful of people who were giving of their time – voluntarily – to ensure that SASA remains relevant and that our community is well served. It is these valued members that keep SASA going and I am very grateful to them. After the meeting we had our plans made and our path set for 2020. Then it all changed. With the announcement of the pandemic and subsequent national shutdowns, the association needed to reassess their strategy for 2020. It was decided, with great sadness, that amongst other meetings and seminars, our flagship event – the annual conference – would have to be cancelled. I thank the community for their understanding of this difficult decision, as it was believed to be in everyone’s best interests. Without a conference to organise, and having to contend with virtual meetings, our committee used this time to reflect on our role in the national statistics landscape. The new normal for statistics as and educator, researcher or professional, will be considerably different. This is the challenge we face as I begin my term as president.

Having not held a conference in 2020, I am unable to reflect on the successes of such in this column, but rather I choose to focus on the path ahead as I take the helm. With the world in a state of transition it is wise to ensure that our association takes the opportunity to make some changes as well. You might have noticed a move from our traditional registration platform to a more dynamic and member engaging platform. As with any change, there will be teething problems and I ensure you that if you encounter any such issues please contact us – we will resolve it in short order. The purpose of the change was to streamline our communications with our members, our financial responsibilities and to offer our members a more engaging experience, thus helping us to fulfil our mission as an association.

Through this platform we are also looking to expand our reach as an organisation and part of that is tied into having a significant online presence both traditionally and on social media platforms. To this end, we will engage with universities and private companies alike to assist them in reaching a wider audience in all areas of South Africa. This may take the form of working with institutions to broadcast seminars and communications throughout the nation so that knowledge and opportunities are not siloed in single institutions. This will help universities to share their valuable research and encourage networking between institutions. Our new treasurer, Dr Carel van der Merwe, and our secretary, Dr Chantelle Clohessy, have been instrumental in driving our efforts in this regard thus far, and I am indebted to them for their continued hard work.

In closing, I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to Prof ‘Maseka Lesaoana who guided our association through a difficult 2020. In addition, I would like to congratulate the Stellenbosch Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science on reaching their 75th anniversary this year and thank them for their willingness to host the 2021 conference in these uncertain times. We owe them our support and wish them all of the best in their preparations for what is sure to be a great conference.

If there is anything that you would like the association to address or consider, my door is open (so to speak) – please send any suggestions to president@sastat.org. Our aim is to continue to be an association that best serves you, and your