National Census: The day government visited every household

Chigumbu Warikandwa

April 21 was set as the national census night for 2022. That night was important to capture everyone based on where one slept. That would capture almost everyone except those who slept in other places such as hotels, cars in transit, jails, hospitals and so forth. The exercise went smoothly and was the first to be conducted using electronic gadgets.

The census was trailed with various social media memes which seemed to mock the process as being too inquisitive. Inquisitive as it were, those questions were very important for national planning purposes.

Seldom does Government visit households. It normally does so under extraordinary circumstances, that is when the police are looking for a crime suspect, when the messenger of court wishes to effect a court order, when there is a crime scene, when there is a catastrophe and so forth. Therefore, busy as Government is, it only sends its officers when there is an unusual event requiring its assistance or intervention.

In recent times, catastrophic deaths in natural and man-made disasters such as cyclone Idai, horrific road crashes and home deaths during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic saw Government officers visiting homes to offer assistance, assessment, recovery and evacuation. So, clearly put, during census periods, Government visits homes when there is no crisis. In fact, it’s a welfare visit to assess how everyone would be doing in their respective homes. Government is often visited by people not vice versa.

The last census was conducted in 2012. The next is due in 2032, all things being equal.

Censuses are conducted not to just see the number of people in a country just for the sake of doing so. It is a deliberative process which seeks to measure a number of variables that affect people's quality of life. The ten year window between censuses allows statisticians to gauge the degree of change in various measures of standard of living.

The Second Republic seeks to deliver an upper middle income economy society by 2030, eight years from today. This census becomes handy in designing mechanisms to ensure this ambitious target is reached.

I was lucky to be found home when the census enumerator visited my place. He asked how many people lived in the house, our respective ages, our ways of earning a living, the size of our house, how many bedrooms it had, our water supply situation, our toilet and ablution facilities, refuse collection schedule, where we lived in the past ten years and so forth.

I’m not sure if these questions were uniform for the rest of the country. But let me hazard that these were obviously tailor-made to suit various communities under different circumstances. The questionnaire designed for Borrowdale Brooke would obviously fail to capture useful information if it were used in Ngangu Township, Chimanimani, the epicentre of Cyclone Idai horror. Similarly, a census questionnaire for homeless street families would not ask about the number of bedrooms or sewer reticulation of such a family.

What these questions, which fed the meme industry some very hilarious humour, intended to capture were people's living standards. Following the conclusion of the mop up exercise to capture those that were not reached, the Census office has up to August to release their data, a deadline they promised to catch.

The national census questionnaire template was informed by United Nations standards that seek to drive member countries towards attaining Sustainable Development Goals. The character of SDGs aims to drive the world towards improved, healthier, happy and sustainable lives. The Second Republic's Vision 2030 is modelled along the same template. So is Africa's Agenda 2050.

When Census 2032 arrives, the Census Office would relate data collected then to see whether or not registered changes are in the positive for all desired phenomena. The degree of change would influence policy design. Similarly, the degree of change in the 2022 census statistics compared to the 2012 census would also inform policymakers on which areas require thrust and enhanced interventions.

Therefore, inquisitive as the census enumerators were, those men and women were Government messengers that were sent to inquire on the welfare of each individual citizen. That is a mammoth task. It is the closest and most expansive personal and individual reach a Government can make. A Government is a welfare organisation. In fact, it is similar to a parent, the national population being its children.

It therefore was important for every citizen to give maximum cooperation, and cooperating through giving truthful responses to the questions asked. Such responses were necessary to capture the national data being sought. Accurate data would result in accurate policy designs.

As the census came and went, very few adverse responses were reported. In fact, they were way too few to contaminate the process. Thank you Zimbabwe!