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South Africa census dogged by crime and apathy

posted 17 Oct 2011, 05:48 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 17 Oct 2011, 05:49 ]

South Africa conducts its third census in 17 years years aimed at increasing efficiency of service delivery especially to poor areas but many feel the process, which itself is dogged by crime fears, will not change much.

ALEXANDRA, JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA (OCTOBER 13, 2011) REUTERS - Johannesburg's Alexandra township teems with thousands living in poverty, sharing water, toilets and illegal power connections.

Not far from here is Sandton city, Africa's richest square mile.

As South Africa holds its third census since decades of minority rule ended in 1994, fragmentation remains the main legacy of apartheid -- its negative effects still evident 17 years into democracy.

The government says the census is aimed at efficient distribution of service delivery to all.

Many South Africans say local governments have failed to provide jobs, housing, sanitation and medical services, and have instead promoted a culture of nepotism.

As they give details about how many children they have and how many share one room, residents of Alexander hope this is a sign of better days to come.

"We feel dehumanised because we live in a rat-infested place and our homes are at risk of being sold. It is bad, the government should empathise because we are human too. At times we do not have running water and electricity but they say this is Johannesburg. Our situation is bad. They (the government) should help us," said Josinah, a street vendor living in the township.

There is growing concern that the rich and politically connected are becoming richer, the poor masses have no way to escape poverty and the middle-class has been squeezed so hard that many wonder how it will make ends meet in the future.

Census officials say this years count is in line with plans to try and change all that.

The government says the last census in 2001 did not yield accurate data, saying that residents were "under-counted" by 17 percent.

Trevor Oorsterwyk is the Census 2011 spokesperson.

"If you want to do development, if you want to build schools, you want to build houses, you want to build clinics, if we have a lot of one-year-old children now, in six years time they must go to school. If we do not know how many one-year-olds there are now, how do we know how many schools must we have in six years? In another five or six years they must go to high school. Are we gonna have enough schools for them? Do we have enough clinics for them? How does the society know these things if it doesn't take a census? So a census is incredibly important for government to plan," he said.

Within the 21 days, 156,000 census field workers will conduct the count covering more than 14 million households and costing the state an estimated 1.2 billion rand (152 million USD).

For enumerators, the task is one that requires not only various skills and training but bravery as well.

There have been reports of violent attacks against the enumerators, with attempted rape reported by one census worker in Cape Town.

Census held an urgent meeting on Monday (October 17) to discuss the spate of attacks.

Residents are afraid too -- at the launch of the census, officials made a plea to people to open their often barricaded and dog guarded doors to the enumerators.

Unemployment, officially at just under 26 percent, is a major factor behind an alarmingly high crime rate and is driving the economic disparity that makes the country one of the most unequal in the world between the haves and have-not's.

Analysts say although residents may feel a bit more optimistic about this year's census, the government needs to do more than just rely on the numbers.

"There hasn't been any literature that has emerged to show that these processes particularly lead to a different orientation in terms of social planning, in terms of business policy, in terms of economic policy. And this is where the weakness lies - the weakness lies in the fact that we are failing to link these numbers with any kind of forward movement. Numbers are useful, but numbers without action and numbers which we do not interpret appropriately don't do much for us," said Lebogang Pheko, a Geopolitics analyst based in Johannesburg.

Ahead of last year's hosting of the World Cup, angry residents in the country took to the streets, demanding better government services and living conditions, putting pressure on the government of President Jacob Zuma.

In 2011, South Africa's economic growth slowed sharply in the second quarter to 1.3 percent from 4.5 percent in the first quarter.

South Africa exited its first recession in almost two decades in the third quarter of 2009 but continued to shed jobs.

The government has said the economy needs to grow by 7 percent a year on a sustained basis to decrease the unemployment rate, which is currently at over 25 percent of the labour force.