Bitter battle over census process

Tendai Marima
THE battle between Acting Finance Minister Gorden Moyo and state security agents over the control of the upcoming national population census — which is critical to the next elections — has brought to the fore the problematic role of mainly the military in civilian matters, especially concerning political and electoral processes.

Informed sources said security forces want to control the census to determine its outcome in line with Zanu PF’s electoral agenda. The census is important to elections because it would show the new population figure and distribution pattern, hence it correlates to the voters’ roll, the delimitation of constituency boundaries and the number of rural and urban seats, among other key electoral determinants.
After a number of twists and turns, characterised by chaos triggered by security forces, Moyo announced yesterday the process would kick off at midnight on August 17/18. At a press conference yesterday, he said continued interference by security forces had forced government to indefinitely suspend training and registration although the census kick off-date remains the same.
“The census count should commence at midnight August 17/18 2012. This date has remained fixed since 1982 and should remain so following international best practice,” Moyo said. “However, the training of enumerators has not proceeded smoothly due to constant disruptions.  This has necessitated the rescheduling of the training timetable, but bearing in mind that the census night will remain 17/18 August 2012.”
Moyo said government also decided that no training would take place until further notice. He said only those people who were recruited through the formal structures set up by ZimStat and who met the set criteria would attend training when it resumes.
“The population census is critical for national development hence it is important that reliable and accurate data are obtained. We therefore urge all stakeholders and members of the public to give the enumerators maximum cooperation,” Moyo said.
It is understood that the rescheduling of the training programme for enumerators means that all personnel involved in the census programme will have to work over the Heroes and Defence Forces holidays on Monday and Tuesday, respectively.
Although Moyo on Wednesday said President Robert Mugabe’s office had sent out an urgent circular to all relevant ministries informing them of the cabinet decision this week to remove about 10 000 army, police and Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) officers from the census, there was no compliance  yesterday.
The census — which has now become a theatre of political battles — was expected to have started on Tuesday but Moyo suspended the process on Monday evening due to the involvement of 10 000 members of the security forces among the 30 000 enumerators who are, traditionally, mostly school teachers. This triggered scenes of fury and chaos at census centres across the country as soldiers tried to force their way into the process by disrupting the exercise. Failing to get their way, security forces resorted to locking up census stations, prompting an intervention by cabinet.
However, by yesterday police and other security agents were still defying the directive sent from the Office of the President and Cabinet on Wednesday. Moyo said it was now up to Mugabe, as the commander-in-chief, to rein in the security forces.
Visits by the Zimbabwe Independent to two census stations, Girl’s High School and Queen Elizabeth High School in the capital, confirmed registration scheduled to begin Thursday after being suspended on Monday was not taking place. One grounds staff member at Girl’s High School said: “The police came here in the morning and said there’ll be no registration until further notice.”
Another one said: “They said we did not have letters for the census to start from the Central Census Office”. Moyo later confirmed training has been suspended indefinitely.
Induction of enumerators has been disrupted across the country with reports of armed anti-riot police invading centres in Bulawayo, Beitbridge, Mutare, Nyanga and Chitungwiza, chasing away civil servants hired for the census.
Asked for clarification on the matter, police spokesperson Wayne Bvudzijena said he was aware of cabinet’s directive but was not at liberty to comment because the matter was still under discussion. “I can’t discuss the issue because it’s still being considered by cabinet,” he said.
Although the census is essentially a civilian issue, the army and other security operatives have been jostling to invade the process which is crucial to elections.
In an effort to stop Zanu PF’s mass recruitment of thousands of soldiers, police and CIO agents as enumerators, Moyo also wrote to Minister of Defence, Emmerson Mnangagwa and Minister of State Security, Sydney Sekeramayi.
In a similar letter to Mnangagwa and Sekeramayi, copied to chief secretary to the president and cabinet, Moyo appealed to the two security ministers to ensure security personnel keep their numbers to a minimum.
“A decision was made today (Tuesday) that the number of security forces in the 2012 population census exercise from the highest supervisory level down to the lowest level — that of the enumerator will be limited to 1571,” said Moyo. “I therefore request your maximum support in conveying this information to the security forces that fall under your portfolio.”
Communicating the cabinet decision, Information minister Webster Shamu said on Tuesday the job of collecting demographic data was normally a teacher’s job while state security performed peacekeeping functions and provided first aid assistance.
Teachers have expressed anger at the interference in their traditional duty by security forces as they stood to earn US$800 for the 10-day process.
The United Nations recommends that countries should conduct a census every 10 years. This period allows for the capture of changes in structure and movement of populations.
Census provides information essential to government for policy-making, planning and administration.  It provides important data for the analysis and appraisal of the changing patterns of rural/urban movement, geographical distribution of the population and decision-making processes of the private sector.

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