Home News South Africa launches census, dogged by crime fears

South Africa launches census, dogged by crime fears

Published on 10/10/2011

South Africa launched its census count on Monday, with officials pleading for residents in the crime-plagued nation to open their often formidably barricaded doors to teams of yellow-shirted enumerators.

The census poses a stiff logistical challenge in the best of scenarios. Enumerators must navigate 11 official languages while criss-crossing impoverished shantytowns and fortified suburban homes flanked by steep walls and electric fences.

“Perhaps the greatest risk is that people do not voluntarily participate in being counted — they shut the doors, let out the dogs and turn out the lights when the enumerators approach,” said Trevor Manuel, head of the National Planning Commission, organisers of the count that runs to October 31.

The last count in 2001 put the population at 44.8 million people, but the national statistics agency Stats SA admits the margin of error was large.

“We had a big undercount. We missed 17 percent of the population,” said the agency’s spokesman Trevor Oosterwyk.

This time South Africa’s population is expected to be about 50 million, half of them younger than 25, when the results are announced in November 2012.

To ease residents’ fears, the 120,000 census-takers will work only in the neighbourhoods where they live. They all have at least a high school diploma. Each carries a badge showing the enumerator’s name and embossed with a hologram.

Posters with their picture were hung on kerbsides. And criminal background checks were performed on all of them.

“We have made sure that all field workers have been vetted, there are no people with criminal records,” Oosterwyk said.

Despite South Africa’s 25 percent unemployment rate, recruiting census-takers in each neighbourhood proved a challenge.

“Recruitment is a nightmare because although we have a lot of unemployment we need people who live in the same area they will enumerate,” said July Reddy, a district manager for the census in Randburg, outside Johannesburg.

With an average of 43 people killed every day in South Africa, crime poses as much a problem in the shantytowns — where violent crime is concentrated — as in wealthy neighbourhoods that fortify themselves against it.

“People with big houses are very much reluctant to apply to be enumerators, but we need them because they are familiar with the area,” said William Monama, who is working his third census in Randburg.

Census-takers are paid 4,000 rands ($500, 400 euros) for the three weeks of work, with many students signing for the challenge of convincing the nation to answer all of the government’s 75 questions.

The first people counted were babies born after midnight, people in hospitals, and travellers in hotels.

After the sun rose, census-takers in their trademark yellow T-shirts took to the streets armed with their questionnaires in all 11 of South Africa’s languages, as well as in French and Portuguese for immigrants from other parts of Africa.

On Monday, President Jacob Zuma urged the nation to participate, which is technically a legal obligation.

“It will help us plan well to build a better life for all,” he said.