I’m counted

South Africa is conducting its once-in-10-years census from 9 to 31 October 2011. Today, when I was walking home from the supermarket, two census people walked in the street where I live looking for people to count, but seemingly not having much luck as few people were at home or unwilling. (Regarding the latter, Hayibo already has been poking fun at the news updates on Census 2011.) They were fine with questioning me on the street as they missed me earlier and it saved them walking back another 200m in the hot sun or repeat visits in the hope I’d be home.

First, there were the usual questions, like name, age, marital status, country and province of birth, since when I live in South Africa, and so forth. And then the census person kind of anticipated my response on what my first language is. “English”. “No”. “You sound as if it is”. “Oh. It really isn’t”. So, ‘other’ was ticked, and English as second language. I protested slightly, as the first words and coherent sentence I uttered in another language than my first were in French, and then German, and then English, and then Spanish, and then Italian, and then Zulu. The form did not cater for that. My mind started wandering off to database design and accuracy of the data. Ah, well.

Then there was the race question. Not that I have figured it out how it works here, and after this event, even less so. For instance, some students who look definitely Mediterranean to me, are proudly Indian, and some people who have a pale skin complexion assert vehemently they are Coloured. So I thought I’d better not bother start trying to box anyone (including myself). But the question had to be answered. The census person read aloud the question: “Are you Black, Indian, or Coloured?”. “Uh, huh?”, turning my head to see the question on the sheet, which had five possible answers. Again, “Are you Black, Indian, or Coloured?”. “Uhm, I’m from Europe. European?”. “Ok, ‘other’”, which was ticked off, and that’s fine by me. Somehow, ‘White’, whilst being in the list, was, to her, not an option worth mentioning and considering to tick off, as apparently I am clearly not White. South Africans with as much of a melanin deficiency as me start their phrases every now and then with “we Europeans…[fill in anything that doesn’t hold for all Europeans]”; are they the Real WhitesTM? And, by converse, I am a Real EuropeanTM, who is then, by definition, not White? Confusing.

The remaining questions were fairly standard, or sensible to ask in a country like South Africa (e.g., in the Netherlands, they would not ask whether I have piped water and am connected to the electricity grid; here, many still have to make do without). I am still wondering about the whole list of equipment though. That the census wants to know whether I have radio, TV, and Internet access at home makes sense in the light of information dissemination, but what’s so useful about knowing who has a DVD player? In the light of COP17 next month, it would have been nice if they had included ‘bicycle’ in the list, instead of only ‘motorcar’. There was no question about how one travels to work and how long it takes, although the answers could have been useful in the planning of the country’s infrastructure.

I got two barcode-stickers at the end: one for the door and one for my passport. The first one acts alike the ‘no Jehovahs, Evangelists, door-to-door salesmen etc.’ stickers one can observe on several front doors in some European countries, the second one for cross-checking that I will not be counted twice or not at all. It’ll be interesting to see what the statisticians are going to do with all the data.

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2 responses to “I’m counted

    • some people in South Africa who categorise themselves as Indians, do, notably among those who are Muslim. Perhaps because at the time when the British took Indians to South Africa as indentured labourers, the land that was then called India was larger than it is now? And there has been a lot of travelling and migrations between the Mediterranean and Asia, which also could contribute to that.
      But, as said, I’m no expert in all this categorisation business—and I don’t intend to become one.

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