opinionBy Clemence Manyukwe
WHETHER its politics or economics, it all boils down to the numbers game. It is for this reason that nearly everyone concerned with nation building is looking forward to the national census that kicks-off at midnight today until August 27, 2012.
While the exercise is crucial in economic planning, marketing and research among others, it is now apparent that government is in sixes and sevens over how it should proceed with the census.
An impasse over the recruitment of enumerators emerged last week with soldiers and other State security agents demanding to be drafted in as enumerators.
The impasse has opened the window to claims that Zimbabwean political figures, due to their obsession with partisanship, cannot accomplish even the simplest of tasks without unnecessarily crossing swords.
With make-or-break elections looming on the horizon, the country could be plunged into a crisis in the event that this trend continues unabated.
University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer, John Makumbe, sees a hidden political hand in the current census saga.
Makumbe suspects there could be attempts to manipulate the outcome of the census with a view to influencing the delimitation of constituency boundaries ahead of the forthcoming polls.
"We know that during the 2000 and 2002 general elections, there were bloated figures from areas like Muza-rabani and Uzumba Mara-mba Pfungwe (UMP). This may be an attempt to rig the results in light of the forthcoming elections so that if numbers are manipulated, the census would confirm that they exist," he said.
ZANU-PF has previously won with huge margins in constituencies' such as UMP, posting votes of more than 30 000 compared to as few as 2000 for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T).
Other skeptics have also previously questioned the delimitation of boundaries, claiming that in ZANU-PF strongholds, more constituencies were created to give the party more representatives in Parliament.
For example, in the last polls UMP and Muzarabani were split into two constituencies; Uzumba under Simbaneuta Mudariki and Pfungwe Maramba under Washington Musvuure.
There is also now Muzarabani North and Muzarabani South.
In the same ZANU-PF stronghold of Mashonaland East, Mudzi district has three constituencies Mudzi North, Mudzi West and Mudzi East.
Then there is Mutoko North, Mutoko East and Mutoko South.
It is only a transparent census exercise that can prove whether the creation of those constituencies was based on simple mathematics or political expediency.
"The second reason is one of bread and butter issues. Soldiers and the Central Intelligence Organisation (ag-ents) want to get at the money. As you know civil servants are poorly paid. Thirdly, there is an element of instilling fear through using them. When elections come, people would have been tuned," added Makumbe.
The bread and butter issue makes sense.
The State has a workforce of 246 000-10 000 of whom were illegally recruited by the army and police recently -- with the minimum salary pegged at US$250, but unions are demanding that it be raised to US$560.
A civil servant who would partake in the 10 day census would go home US$500 richer at the end of this month.
The fear factor can also not be ruled out. The security services have previously faced accusations, including from MDC formations and the United Nations country team, of brutalising people in or-der to coerce them to vote for ZANU-PF.
ZANU-PF also appears to mistrust teachers, who are expected to play a major role in the enumeration exercise. A progress report for the United Nations Children's Fund's Education in Emergencies and Post-Crisis Transition programme covering the period January 2008-March 2009 attests to the harassment of teachers during the 2008 polls.
"Limited learning has taken place since March due to a shortage of teachers, insufficient learning spa-ces and political violence. Teachers were widely targeted with politically-motivated violence as they were required to act as polling age-nts during elections," reads part of the report.
The president of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, Takavafira Zhou, said the census saga has brought to the fore the fact that there was no serious planning in terms of identifying enumerators, supervisors and coordinators for the exercise.
He said in previous censuses, 60 percent of enumerators would be teachers, but this time around the figure was reduced to 30 percent.
Zhou said the exercise has now become a victim of contestation by political parties and risks producing figures based not on the reality on the ground, but on political wishes.
He said the problem in Zimbabwe today is the paralysis of analysis, with everything boiling down to either ZANU-PF or the MDC-T.
Zhou added that the lack of consensus emerging on the eleventh hour before enumeration, would rear its ugly hand on the eve of the next polls.
"We see these things coming, but unfortunately politicians don't learn," concluded Zhou.