The first recorded activities to establish Statistics as a scientific discipline at any South African university was noted on 3 June 1920, when at a Board meeting of the Faculty of Commerce, Prof AE du Toit inquired about the position of Statistics and Actuarial Science in the Faculty. Since 1925 Statistics was given as part of the Mathematics syllabi by the young BJ de Loor.
The “Departement Statistiek en Handelswiskunde” came into being as the first of its kind in South Africa late in 1938 and Prof BJ de Loor was appointed as first head of the Department on 1 January 1939. His office was in the “Buitemuurse Gebou” in the city centre of Pretoria and the Department’s office remained in that building until 1956, when it was moved to the western wing of the Physics Building. In 1946 an MCom (Statistics) degree and an MSc (Mathematical Statistics) degree were introduced. Prof De Loor became Dean of the Faculty of Commerce and Public Administration and a representative of Senate on the University Board. He was a founder member of the South African Statistical Association and its first president.
In 1949 the second staff member of the Department was appointed in the person of HS Steyn, who had just returned from abroad after receiving a doctoral degree under Prof AC Aitken at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. In 1955 DJ Stoker, who had completed his doctoral degree in the Netherlands under Prof D van Dantzig, joined the Department.
In 1956 Mathematical Statistics was introduced as a two year major and in 1967 it became a three year major. In 1958 the name of the Department was changed to the Department of Statistics.
After Prof De Loor passed away in 1962, Prof DJ Stoker became the head of the Department. Under his leadership the Department started to grow rapidly with many important developments. Computer Science was offered for the first time at the University of Pretoria in the Department of Statistics in 1969. In 1975 the name of the Department became the Department of Statistics and Computer Science. In 1977 Computer Science became an independent department under Prof RJ van den Heever. Prof HS Schoeman succeeded Prof Stoker in 1981 and in 1991 Prof NAS Crowther became the Head of the Department.
In 1992 Prof Crowther instituted the Bureaux for Statistical and Survey methodology, STATOMET, as the consultancy arm of the department, a first of its kind in South Africa. The external consultation arm has impacted greatly in enhancing the visibility and impact of Statistics as discipline in Industry while the internal consultation arm rendered a valuable service to researchers and post graduate students enabling them to excel in their research outputs.
In July 2012 Prof Andriette Bekker was appointed as the first female head of the department. Under her leadership the Department has strengthened its capacity as leading department in both theoretical and applied Statistics. This includes the establishment of close ties with industry by means of the creation of the Post Graduate Hub which offers internships to Masters level students in collaboration with industrial partners. The department is currently the largest Statistics department in South Africa, with a student corps of more than 8000 students. The Department of Statistics at the University of Pretoria is a leader in post graduate teaching and research and delivers the most post graduate Statistics students in South Africa, in excess of 70 students annually.