/ 15 November 2011

Census 2011: Skewed results?

The number of households covered in the recent census was falsely reported on, according to Statistics SA.

Towards the end of the primary census period, which drew to a close on October 31 it was stated widely in the media that up to 97% of South African homes were tallied during the procedure.

Stats SA communications director Trevor Oosterwyk confirmed the initial information emerging from the population survey was “completely incorrectly reported”.

“It is correct that 97% of the 103000 enumerator areas in South Africa were reached during the census but every enumerated area has a different number of households and we can’t say at this stage how many of those households in those areas were actually counted,” Oosterwyk told the Mail & Guardian.

The census officially ended on October 31 and a moderating process began on November 1 to moderate and refine results, as well as reach those yet to be counted.

Oosterwyk said the numbers would increase as results from the so called “mopping up” period were finalised, when that process draws to a close next week.

“We will only be able to ascertain the amount of households counted in each enumerated area as and when the questionnaires start coming and the counting procedures begin in earnest,” he said.

This is in line with expert testimony garnered from the M&G‘s pilot Public Insight Network (PIN) project, where online users were encouraged to share their experiences during the Census.

One of the respondents, associate professor of demography at the University of Cape Town, Tom Moultrie, told the M&G references to enumeration area coverage is by no mean an indication of what amount of the population was actually counted.

“In a direct mechanistic sense, references to enumerated areas are no way of indicating how many people have been counted. In the last census in 2001 almost all enumerator areas were visited. The final undercount of people was at least 16%,” said Moultrie.

General dissatisfaction
Responses to the PIN survey indicated many South Africans were unhappy with the way the process was managed.

“I was not counted and I don’t know anyone in my townhouse complex that was. If I live in an easily accessible part of the country’s largest metropolitan area, work normal hours and don’t leave home a lot at night, and I still don’t get counted — just like the residents of the other 37 units in my complex — how much guesswork is going on countrywide? The planning may have been just fine, but the execution clearly wasn’t,” said Randburg resident, Brendan Peacock.

“We were not counted even though census workers walked up and down the street. I approached one enumerator and arranged to meet him the following day to complete the census form but they never pitched, ” said Ignes Fatui of Eldorado Park.

Marion Baumgart, who lives in Houghton, said: “It was a lengthy exercise taking nearly an hour with the census workers not really being helpful nor able to answer questions about how to fill the questionnaire.”

In spite of the large number of negative responses, a few respondents had some positive feedback.

“I found completing the census questionnaire to be an incredibly humbling experience. I had expected questions regarding religion, opinions on culture, job satisfaction and other upper middle-class diseases, but instead I found many questions which targeted the living conditions of the majority of South Africans. Could they write their name? What is their dwelling made of? How do they heat things and access water?

“It made me see such a stark dichotomy in South Africa — where you have opulence of the lives in Sandton and then someone who has to walk 500m to access tapped water,” said Deshni Naidoo, an attorney from Johannesburg.

Households who have not been counted are encouraged to phone the Stats SA census toll-free number on 0800110248.

“We are going to run this for a while, as we think we have the majority counted but will allow those yet to be enumerated to be included,” Oosterwyk said.

Moultrie echoed those sentiments, saying those who have not been counted should make an effort to be included in the process.

“I would hope that people would want to be enumerated. The census provides the essential tool for understanding the population of the country at a finely-grained level, and provides the basis for drawing samples for other national surveys. The quality of those exercises can be compromised by a poor enumeration,” he said.

The M&G’s new Public Insight Network project helps our audience become sources, giving you an open door into our newsroom. Go here to join our network of sources.