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Soldiers run amok


Soldiers on Tuesday disrupted the induction of enumerators for this year’s national population census across the country, defying a government directive to stay away from the process.

Cabinet moved in last night to impose a limit on the number of soldiers who can be involved in the census at supervisory and enumeration level to 1 571 following the chaos.

Armed riot police dispersed thousands of civil servants who had gathered at various centres after the influx of soldiers led to chaos.

At Golden Peacock Hotel in Mutare, rowdy soldiers allegedly went as far as confiscating and eating all the food meant for the enumerators.

The soldiers allegedly barred the civil servants from entering the premises where they wanted to check if their names appeared on the list of enumerators hired by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZimStat).

Police intervention reportedly worsened the disruptions by soldiers in Harare, Masvingo, Mutare and Bulawayo.

Civil servants were ordered to disperse by the armed police who told them the gatherings were illegal.
In Harare, armed riot police stopped a Zimstat official who was reading out names of teachers who had been selected at Girls’ High School and Highfield 1 High School.

Entrances to the schools were barricaded by the police.

“On Monday when we got to Girls’ High we were told that our names that had been submitted through our respective schools could not be found,” one teacher said after being chased away by the police.

“It is not fair for them to set riot police on us like this.”
In Masvingo, the recruitment of enumerators had to be postponed to tomorrow after members of the security forces, in civilian clothes, stormed Masvingo Polytechnic College demanding to be included in the programme.

ZimStat officials left the venue in a huff saying they were facing logistical challenges.

Around midday civil servants were seen moving around the centre under heavy police guard.
Sources said the number of enumerators had skyrocketed after the protests by the uniformed forces, leaving ZimStat in a dilemma.

“They said the number has gone too high and we are not so sure if we will not be dropped off the list to pave way for the security forces,” said a Masvingo teacher.

“Their (soldiers’) argument is that we will campaign for the MDC-T as we will be conducting the counting.”

The situation was the same in Mutare where hundreds of stranded civil servants had gathered at the Chinese-owned Golden Peacock Hotel waiting to hear from ZimStat officials on the future of the census.

“Since morning we have been waiting in the scorching sun without any word from the responsible authorities,” said Enock Tarwira, a local teacher .

“We have even been denied ablution facilities and were just told by the police to use the bush. This is insane and we are kept in the dark.”

In Bulawayo, soldiers dispersed enumerators at Bulawayo Polytechnic, Coghlan Primary School, Eveline High School and Elangeni Training Centre.
Police spokesperson Superintendent Andrew Phiri defended the heavy-handed approach of the police.

“Wherever there is a gathering, the police have to be there to ensure that people are safe. That is why you see that people have to notify police of their gatherings,” he said. “It is the duty of the police to be there to protect people. As police, we cannot leave things to chance.”

Acting Finance minister Gorden Moyo last night said Cabinet had resolved that registration and training of enumerators must start today in all provinces following the disruptions by the soldiers
“In addition to their critical role of creating an environment of peace and tranquillity during the census period, the number of security forces at supervisory and enumeration level will be limited to 1 571 personnel,” Moyo said.

“Details of this have been communicated to provincial and district supervisors by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency.

“As in previous censuses, the majority of enumerators should come from the teaching profession since teachers work and reside in the respective enumeration areas.”

President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai will launch the census that will run from August 17 to 27.

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