The decision to demilitarise the census process by barring members of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces from taking part in the enumeration scheduled for later this month could not have come at a better time.
A census is the procedure of systematically acquiring and recording information about a given population. It is a regularly occurring official count of that population.
On Monday evening, after we published a story about members of the uniformed forces and Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) officers who had been recruited en masse to take part in the process, Acting Finance minister Gorden Moyo called for an “urgent” Press conference where he emphasised that soldiers had no role to play in a civilian process.
“This will be our fourth census since Independence and throughout this trajectory we have had the Ministry of Education and teachers taking a lead with other government departments participating,” he said.
“We shall not divert from that culture because it has brought credible results. We shall adhere to that ritual.
“That doesn’t mean the army doesn’t have a role to play. They have to protect enumerators and that is their role and another limited role in their own military cantons.”
Schools were this month closed early to release teachers who are supposed to make up the bulk of the enumerators, but the Zanu PF component of the inclusive government was busy recruiting members of the army, police and CIO operatives for a different cause.
According to Finance minister Tendai Biti, a census is a planning tool to give us certain economic indicators on poverty levels, health issues and such issues that can be useful for policy programme planning, monitoring and evaluation and progress to achieve nationally agreed millennium development goals.
The data will also provide information for the delimitation of constituencies. Why soldiers and CIO officers are developing more than passing interests in the civilian exercise gives room for suspicion.
At least 6 000 enumeration supervisors and 31 000 enumerators will be recruited for the exercise.
To Zanu PF, anything that involves the other political parties should be kept under check. It is sad to note that even after four years in the inclusive government, there is still so much mistrust among government partners.
It is unfortunate that there is so much commotion over the census which in our view should be a national exercise with no political inclinations to it.
The suspicion that members of the uniformed forces were being recruited by Zanu PF in order to campaign for President Robert Mugabe and his hardliners during the week-long exercise leaves a lot to be desired.
We gather Zanu PF is of the view that most teachers are aligned to the MDC-T hence it might take the opportunity to campaign for Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
But why is Zanu PF seeing shadows all over the place? What is it afraid of? Has the census become the new political battlefield? Only time will tell.