Newsmaker – You count in Mzansi

2011-10-15 15:55

He was only 13 years old when the last national census was conducted in 2001 but on Monday morning Lindile Yakupa (23) slipped on a yellow bib, took up his matching yellow bag, a clipboard and identity card to begin work as one of the 156 000 Census 2011 enumerators, co-ordinators and supervisors who took to South Africa’s streets this week.

In a statement to Parliament on Census 2011 last month Minister in the Presidency Trevor Manuel said 130 offices had been rented, 6 000 vehicles hired and 20 million, 14-page questionnaires with 75 questions printed for the 21-day project.

Although Manuel pronounced Stats SA ready for the project, Yakupa says he was a little nervous on the first day.

But when we meet in Phola Park, a squatter settlement in Thokoza township, Ekurhuleni, on Wednesday afternoon, he sounds relaxed and confident.

His day started at 8am that morning when he met colleagues at the Phola Park Hall to plan the day ahead and review the previous day’s progress.

Yakupa got into this quite by chance. One day back in June as he sat wondering whether he would ever get a job, a relative told him about a newspaper advert for census officers.

He didn’t waste time in applying and two months later he was undergoing training.

“The training was a bit hectic,” he says with a smile. “I had to get used to a lot of terms that I had never heard before. The lessons about respecting people’s privacy were also an eye opener.”

And in the few days he’s been on the job he’s already learnt to control his short temper.

“Sometimes when people see you with this bib in the street they just grab you and ask you to count them right there,” says Yakupa with a chuckle.

“Usually I would not have time for such people but my training and the response from people who open their doors for us has taught me patience.”

However, it seems it is not only the census officers whose lives have been touched by the process. Field workers are allocated between 150 and 200 households for the duration of the census period. They are required to visit each household on their list, which means in cases where people are unavailable at the time of a visit, they have to take note and revisit the household until they find the occupants for enumeration.

Where they repeatedly find no home when they visit they must leave a form on which the occupants can suggest a suitable date and time. And they have only until the last day of this month to do all this.

They were trained for about 10 days in the rigours of field work and confidentiality. They are bound by law not to disclose any of the information they gather during interviews with residents to a third party.

A violation of this confidentiality, as stipulated in the Statistics Act No 6 of 1999, could mean a fine of R10 000 or six months in jail. Equally, it is illegal for citizens to refuse to participate in the census.

Field workers may accept a cup of tea during their visits but they are barred from accepting gifts of any kind. They are also armed with caps for protection against the boiling sun and raincoats to protect them from the summer downpours.

In fact, only a natural disaster is an acceptable excuse for stopping work. They also get an allowance of R200 airtime for the duration of the census to help them contact supervisors in case of emergencies or if they need supplies.

Unemployed Siphokazi Busakwe (22), who lives in a shack in Phola Park, says she had known nothing about the census until Yakupa’s visit. After explaining the reason for his visit she patiently went through the 45-minute-long process of completing the questionnaire.

“It is a worthwhile process. It might help to change our lives,” she says.

Teboho Madi (22), who supervises five field workers, including Yakupa, says when he heard that census officers were being recruited he resigned from his job as a senior sales executive at an events company and applied.

“I have learnt so much in these few days, particularly ubuntu, particularly from the older people. They are kind and do not have problems inviting strangers like us into their homes,” he says.

“You get the feeling they are proud of you because you are young and doing something that could change their lives.

“Young people also afford us respect because they see themselves in us and they ask a lot of questions, trying to understand why we do what we are doing.”

Although the census was marred by an incident of thugs posing as census workers robbing two men in Johannesburg and some areas reporting a lack of Know your Enumerator posters, the process went off without any major glitches, with Cabinet also giving it the thumbs up on Thursday.

Yakupa says the only challenge he’s faced so far is coming to terms with the deprivation faced by some of the people he’s visited.

“One learns a lot from meeting different characters and being exposed to how difficult it is for some people,” he says.

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