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Census workers face physical attacks, harassment

Census enumerators have allegedly become the victims of physical attacks and harassment while collecting data.

Namibia Statistics Agency enumerator Thiggipo Haihambo (33) says he was attacked by a group of five men at Oshakati West in the Oshana region on Wednesday evening.

“They approached me and were fighting to get hold of my census bag, which contained the tablet I use in the field, a power bank, books and copies of my identity documents, among many other personal items.

“I had to fight and run for my life, but I managed to get away with a cut in my face and a few scratches,” he says.

Haihambo says enumerators need police protection.

Oshana regional police commissioner Teophilus Kamati has confirmed the incident.

“Yes, a case was opened here at Oshakati Police Station of an incident that happened at Ompumbu, where a census enumerator residing in that area was attacked at around 21h00.

“The victim was on duty listing the households at Ompumbu. The suspects are unknown and no arrests have been made,” he says.

The driver of a census team, who prefers to remain anonymous, says his team was chased away by a farm owner in the Okahandja vicinity on Monday.

“We entered a farm and were sent back by a frustrated plot owner, who said we are driving an expensive vehicle and want to disturb his workers while they are on duty.

“We vacated the farm because he chased us, and it was not a good experience. We had to run back to the vehicle fast,” he says.

According to one of the team supervisors at Rundu in the Kehemu constituency, who preferred anonymity, some people do not want to cooperate, mostly those in the suburbs.

“An enumerator reported that her cellphone was grabbed by a group of four men, but with the help of the community who traced one of the culprits, the police managed to recover the cellphone,” he said.

The chairperson of the Ohangwena Regional Council, Erickson Ndawanifwa, has urged enumerators to report incidents of assault and intimidation to the nearest authorities, including councillors’ offices.

“We have been conducting awareness on radio regarding this census. We are informing communities through radio to welcome the enumerators and allow them to carry out their national duties.

“These people are doing work that is not only for the government, but for all of us. Let’s refrain from intimidating them and adhere to calls to welcome them to carry out their duties,” he said this week.

The Namibian has received several reports of members of the public demanding to take photos of enumerators, which are shared on neighbourhood watch groups.

Pictures of the team operating at Swakopmund’s Kramersdorf area were taken and circulated so that people in the area could be familiar with them.

This did not sit well with Tuhafeni Petrus, the Affirmative Repositioning leader at the town.

He says census officials should not be treated like criminals who are invading people’s privacy, unless their behaviour is questionable.

“This practice of taking pictures of the census teams should stop. These are state officials and they should be allowed to carry out their work,” he says.

NSA spokesperson Sakaria Ipumbu has advised against taking pictures of enumerators.

“Taking pictures is really not necessary, and may expose our enumerators to abuse. We have liaised with the police, city police, and neighbourhood watch groups throughout the entire country to assist to ensure this census is as safe as possible,” he says.

NSA statistician general Alex Shimuafeni has confirmed that an enumerator was assaulted in the Oshana region.

He says there is an agreement with the police and neighbourhood watch groups to ensure the safety of enumerators.

Shimuafeni said this during an interview with Desert Radio yesterday.

“It is unfortunate that he was assaulted, however he didn’t inform his supervisor that he was going to collect data at night,” he said.

Shimuafeni said arrangements would have been made for the rest of the team or the police to accompany the enumerator – especially to crime hotspots.

He confirmed that a census officer has encountered locked farm gates at Okahandja and returned with the police to speak to the farmers. He, however, said the team was not chased away.

“We are working with the police to make sure the safety of enumerators and public is secured,” Shimuafeni said.