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Zimbabwe Census on Track Despite Earlier Glitches

After a shambolic run-up, Zimbabwe's population census gets underway Friday with the statistics agency encouraging the public to fully cooperate with enumerators.

The preparations were marred by the involvement of security forces who wanted a stake as census takers.

Although the government quickly resolved the situation, allegations of military interference resurfaced Thursday in some parts of the country.

Soldiers were reported to be threatening enumerators who they suspect may engage in secret political activity during the exercise.

Security operatives and Zanu PF supporters last week hijacked training workshops across the country, accusing some civil servants of promoting the interests of unnamed political parties.

Zimbabwe held its first census in 1982, a year after independence, and found the population to be 7,6 million. Ten years later, it had jumped to 10,4 million, and in 2002, it rose marginally to 11,6 million.

Launching the exercise Wednesday, President Robert Mugabe expressed concern at the stagnation of the numbers, blaming women who he said were no longer willing to bear more children.

For perspective, VOA reporter Tatenda Gumbo reached Population Census and Surveys director, Washington Tapuwa Mapeta and Takavafira Zhou of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ).

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While Mapeta said all systems were in place, Zhou alleged that security agents were still in tow of enumerators and harassing them.

"Whilst we are in a critical moment," Zhou said, "we are sad that we continue to receive information that soldiers or mal-contents continue to threaten teachers serving as enumerators."

Responding, Mapeta assured that the exercise was above board, vowing all security agents will remain out of the process.

“Everyone would want the census to be conducted in an atmosphere that ensures the confidence in the quality of data,” said Mapeta.

"If there are any mal-contents who are taking issues into their own hands, we really have not been advised, or reports have not reached us.”

Observers say given the HIV/Aids toll and the mass exodus of Zimbabweans fleeing political and economic crises in the past decade, the population will be found to have significantly scaled down.

The count runs through August 27.