Soldiers invade census centres

HARARE - Uniformed forces yesterday invaded centres where civilian government workers expecting to undergo training as census enumerators had gathered, leaving the process in limbo.

Chaotic scenes characterised several registration centres in different parts of the country, with security forces taking centre stage in all cases.

This comes at a time when the number of security forces at supervisory and enumeration levels have been limited to   1 571 personnel.

Irate teachers’ groups have now threatened to pull out if the uniformed forces continue hijacking the process.

In Harare, armed police sealed off some venues and used threats of violence to chase away civil servants who had gathered to begin training early yesterday morning.

In Karoi, senior police officers reportedly stopped the process and demanded that uniformed forces be allocated a quota.

A senior government official in charge of the process in the area told civil servants gathered for the aborted training that he had received orders to chop names and make room for uniformed forces.

This comes a day after the Finance ministry said it had postponed training of enumerators by a day to investigate reports of politically partisan soldiers having been planted as enumerators.

Acting Finance minister Gorden Moyo on Monday insisted that government will not allow soldiers to take part as enumerators, saying teachers have the experience to carry out the task.

The census is viewed by lowly-paid government workers as a “cash cow” hence the jostling.

Although official figures are yet to be released, the Daily News understands from sources that individuals involved will get up to $800 for the 10-day process.

This is more than double what most civil servants are getting in monthly salaries.

Uniformed forces say they want a piece of the cake.

The Daily News witnessed near-violent scenes in Harare as armed police pounced on civil servants who had gathered for training at Harare Girls’ High School, ordering them to disperse.

Some of the civil servants who later regrouped in the adjacent Harare Gardens were forced to flee after vicious police went after them.

A Daily News reporter covering the event was also nearly manhandled by the police officers.

“What do you want here? Where do you work? Are you against what we are doing here,” a menacing police officer said as he charged towards the reporter.

In Hurungwe District, which covers Karoi town, officials said they were being forced to redraw lists to accommodate uniformed forces.

A district official identified only as Maturire had to plead with impatient enumerators who had gathered for training.

Addressing the enumerators, he said: “We are waiting for an instruction to accept uniformed forces but it will affect 145 people we had accepted from various Government departments. Unfortunately, the whole exercise is confusing before it even starts.”

There was no immediate response from the Zimbabwe Statistics Agency, which is in charge of the 10-day census process.

But teachers’ representatives said they were infuriated by the move. Teachers make the bulk of the government’s 200 000 plus workforce. At least 31 000 of these will take part in the census as enumerators.

Zimbabwe Teachers Association (Zimta) president Tendai Chikowore said she had received reports of chaos at enumeration centres around the country.

“We are receiving reports from Bulawayo, Masvingo and other parts of the country that soldiers are taking over the process,” she said.

“If it comes to a situation where our members are in danger, we will have to pull out,” said Chikowore.

Another union, the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), said it was too late to sniff out soldiers from the process.

The union claimed that soldiers were moving around in areas such as Gokwe North constituency disrupting the process. The group claimed the soldiers had targeted some of its members for victimisation.

“Zanu PF is calling the shots in government including in the census process. The reports of intimidation of our members in Mashonaland East, West and Central provinces are really saddening,” said PTUZ secretary-general Raymond Majongwe.

“The credibility of the process is now in a shambles because it has been taken over by the police and soldiers,” he said.

Douglas Mwonzora, spokesperson for Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC, said the party had raised the issue through its representatives in the fragile coalition government.

Zanu PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo dismissed the allegations by teachers’ unions and the MDC.

“No one wants to militarise the census issue. It is a government project and the MDC is part of that government which controls the army. Zanu PF does not control the military and these people always want to raise mundane issues. It is nonsense,” said Gumbo.

Zimbabwe has successfully conducted three population counts since independence from Britain in 1980. The country’s national census is held after every 10 years.

The 2012 census comes ahead of a watershed election to be held most likely next year.

Statistics from the census will be critical in the constituency delimitation process.

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