Govt deploys police, soldiers for census

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Mangaliso Ndhlovu

BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA
THE involvement of members of the security sector in the upcoming population census has raised eyebrows, with observers describing it as a calculated move by the Zanu PF government to manipulate the results ahead of the 2023 elections.

Government yesterday announced that members of the security sector, who include the police, soldiers and members of the Central Intelligence Organisation will be involved in the census together with other civil servants and Zanu PF youths.

The 2022 population census, which is expected to run from April 21 to 30, 2022, will involve youths and security officers at the exclusion of teachers who have traditionally been recruited as enumerators, following their fallout with government over salaries.

“Cabinet wishes to inform the public that preparations for the 2022 population and housing census are on track, with levels one and two training having been completed in March 2022,” acting Information minister Mangaliso Ndhlovu said during a post-Cabinet media briefing on Tuesday.

“Cabinet highlights that the bulk of the personnel is drawn from the teaching fraternity, youth and other civil servants from the security sector.”

Zimbabwe Statistics Agency (ZimStats) spokesperson Mercy Chidemo did not disclose the number of security officers who had been recruited for the exercise, but curtly said they were “enough” to cover the cantonment areas.

“Members of the security forces were recruited to cover cantonments areas where civilian enumerators cannot enumerate for security reasons,” Chidemo said.

“Recruitment of security forces will not jeopardise the exercise as they are enumerating people in their barracks. (They are) enough to cover the cantonment areas.”

But analysts said the deployment of security officers as enumerators was tantamount to militarising the process which could threaten the accuracy of the census outcome.

Following the 2017 coup that ousted the late former President Robert Mugabe, concerns have been raised over involvement of the army in government institutions.

Serving and retired army officers have been deployed at roadblocks,  while some have been appointed to top posts  in key government institutions such as the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, the Health ministry and several others.

Human rights lawyer Alec Muchadehama bemoaned lack of transparency in the recruitment of enumerators, which he said raised suspicion of a sinister motive by the government.

“The recruitment should have been publicised and with consultation with the relevant stakeholders,” Muchadehama said. “Government was at loggerheads with teachers who are usually recruited as enumerators over the issue of salaries and it then scratched the majority of them off the census programme. In one way, the government is trying to buy loyalty from the security sector. There is no doubt that just like any other civil servants, the security forces know that their salaries are not enough  so when they are recruited they then get extra money from the programme, they will then remain loyal to the paymaster.”

Political analyst Effie Ncube said: “The militarisation of the census is as bad as the militarisation of the electoral process. This can only lead to rigged results. The militarisation also endangers democratic accountability as required by the Constitution as it will be difficult to bring the members of the security sector to account, given the circumstances.”

But constitutional lawyer  and National Constitutional Assembly party leader Lovemore Madhuku said there was nothing amiss about members of the security sector being involved in the census programme as they could carry out the duties just like any other civil servant.

“They are just like any other civil servants who are entitled to benefit from such programmes. World over, soldiers are also involved in such national exercises such as the census. Do we question involvement of soldiers in other social circles, say attending church services, for instance? In actual fact, involvement of soldiers could improve accountability of the whole process.”

Meanwhile, government has directed that tertiary education institutions be closed from April 18 to 30, 2022 during the duration of the census.

Government urged church members to be at their places of residence between April 18 and 30 to allow the smooth conduct of the census.

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