Statistics South Africa (StatsSA) briefed the Committee on the entity’s plans for the 2022/23 financial year and an update on the 2022 census report.
The Committee raised concerns over the low response rate in the Western Cape. It sought clarification on the Department's plan to deal with the issue and how they intended to improve public trust in the census exercise. They asked about the cost of the post-enumeration survey and how Covid-19 impacted efficacy of the census exercise. The Committee also inquired whether the Department had a plan to launch the web-based mode of data collection in the rural areas more seriously.
StatsSA responded that a reason for the lack of response by people to the census was an overabundance of caution against crime. Covid-19 had also significantly impacted interactions between people, with them either being reluctant or declining to engage with others. Another reason was that citizens' faith in the government was extremely low.
They had engaged with local government to improve the response rate. They felt there was a need to adopt the use of other local languages which certain communities would be more receptive towards, rather than English. The cost of the post-enumeration survey was included in the Department’s medium term expenditure framework allocation, but the Department was also looking into acquiring a rollover of funds from the 2021/22 financial year. They intended to inform the public about how they could participate in the census in future, which was not limited to in-person interviews.
The Chairperson welcomed StatsSA to the meeting, which would now form part of the various departments over which the Committee had oversight. She asked the Members to introduce themselves while the Department also introduced the team present at the meeting.
StatsSA's plans for 2022 Census
Mr Rusenga Maluleke, Statistician-General, said that he would make the presentation on four areas -- the strategic overview, the 2022/23 plans, developments on the census 2022, and risks and priorities.
Mr Maluleke said StatsSA was a national government department accountable to the Minister in the Presidency. They had provincial and district offices throughout the country. They were mandated to collect, produce and disseminate official and other statistics. The Department was regulated by the Statistics Act Number 6 of 1999, which provides for its independence and oversight by a council. The African Charter also guided the Department on Statistics and the fundamental principles of official statistics. South Africa had not yet adopted the African Charter on Statistics, but still was an active participant both in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the African Union (AU) and the United Nations (UN). South Africa was a major player in matters statistical in the world.
The role players in the statistical environment included the President, who appoints the Statistician-General, and the Minister, who manages the performance of the Statistician-General and appoints the South African Statistics Council. His duties as the Statistician-General involve the execution of the Statistics Act, and being responsible for official and other statistics. The Statistician-General had the authority to certify any statistics that met the required official statistics standard. The Statistician-General was also empowered to demote official statistics to normal statistics if they did not meet the required standard.
Mr Maluleke said the Statistics Council was independent of StatsSA, comprising members from the public and academia. StatsSA had around 2 674 staff members, with a vacancy rate of 19.3%. The Department’s annual budget was R2.8 billion, with 368 work programme targets. It had seven leadership positions, four working in an acting capacity.
On programme performance, he said the Department hoped to link policy with statistics from the global level in terms of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) down to the National Development Plan (NDP), which was driven through the Medium Term Strategic Framework (MTSF). This trickled down to the district level.
In measuring society as one of its core mandates, Stats SA had 48 statistical products scheduled for 2022/23. These reports ran across the board, from education and skills to housing and access to basic service delivery. He informed the Committee that the General Household Survey would come out the following week, while the quarterly survey report on unemployment and job creation had come out two weeks before. On measuring the economy as another of the Department’s mandates, Stats SA had 228 statistical reports scheduled for 2022/23. Here the Department looked at economic performance, price stability, environment and agriculture among others.
Due to challenges, the 2022 census collection has been extended, particularly in the Western Cape. The main release of the census would be in 2023, as the Department was yet to analyse the data collected.
Developments on census plans
Thirdly, on the census update report, Mr Maleleke said that the Department used three modes of collection -- online, telephone and In-person. The project had started on 2 February 2022, with the Department conducting mop-up operations between 22 March and 14 April. It had to extend the mop-up for the Western Cape. The online computer-assisted web interviews were not the main form of collection, and the uptake had been lower than expected, with only 33% of those registered being able to use the platform. The in-person computer-assisted personal interviews reached over 18.2 million households and showed much better completion rates. There were telephone interviews with 68 000 households which chose to be counted over the phone.
Most of the field workers had been paid, and the Department was working on conclusively dealing with the payment issues. It recognised that the money was public funds and verifications were needed before payment. He indicated there had been a fleet/vehicle shortage affected by the Covid-19, which had depleted all the stock that rental companies held for purposes of use. The Department also faced problems with citizens refusing or not responding to the call for participation in the survey exercise.
He said this census was the most challenging yet, which was further compounded by Covid-19, but also by poor participation, especially in the Western Cape. The City of Cape Town, with a largely white population, had a low uptake of in-person data collection due to wages for enumerators being too low. Further, residents were not ready to open their homes to enumerators of other races to carry out the census exercise. The Department had to bring in enumerators from other provinces to come and help in the survey exercise in the Western Cape.
The post-enumeration survey was an independent survey used to measure the accuracy and reach of the census by identifying how many households and persons were erroneously included, missed or double counted. This survey usually gave an under-count, which was used to adjust the population accordingly. Mr Maluleke said it was impossible to reach every household, which was why the post-enumeration survey was necessary.
Having concluded the survey, the Department intended to move to the next phase, being post-collection processes, including structural editing, data confrontation, report writing and analysis. This would all play a part in the final census data collection, scheduled for release within the next twelve months.
Risks and priorities
Regarding the risks and priorities, the demand outweighed the supply; therefore the census would mitigate by providing a baseline for the statistical information system in South Africa. Due to lack of funding, the Department reduced or discontinued some of the surveys, which they hoped to mitigate through an income expenditure survey set to start in 2022/23.
The Department had a five year plan through which they hoped to drive legislative reform while sustaining and protecting the quality of national indicators.
Ms D Christians (DA, Northern Cape) asked if the high non-response rate in some provinces had been investigated. She wanted to know what reasons were given by people for not responding to StatsSA. She wanted to know whether the Department intended to roll out the digital modes more seriously, particularly to the rural departments. What was the Department doing to ensure a higher response rate next time? She felt that the digital modes had yielded a lot of positive responses compared to the door-to-door method. She was not casting doubt on the efficacy of the door-to-door method; rather she was interested to know how the uptake could be improved in the future, using both digital and door-to-door modes.
Mr E Nchabaleng (ANC, Limpopo), reflecting on the lack of positive response by people living in the urban areas, queried what plan the Department had to ensure that the public trusted the enumerators and the census process. He expressed his gratitude to the Statistician-General and the Department for their work.
Ms S Luthuli (EFF, KZN) asked how the Department was dealing with the misinformation surrounding the census process. There had been stories of thieves masquerading as StatsSA officials while robbing people. She questioned the accuracy of the Department’s statistics in rural areas, given that some people were not counted due to inaccessible roads and the huge number of people migrating from urban to rural areas. She said the number of people in rural areas should not be decreasing but increasing. How would the Department ensure that every house was being counted?
Ms N Ndongeni(ANC, Eastern Cape) wanted to know the cost of the post enumeration survey that took place on 1 June 2022. She asked whether this cost fell within the Census 2022 budget.
She asked whether the Department had investigated the reasons for enumerators' dropouts and resignations, to avoid future recurrence. She also wanted to know the results of the post-enumeration survey.
The Chairperson asked the Department to explain how the fleet shortage was connected to Covid-19, when all heavy restrictions were lifted and the state of emergency abolished. She wanted to know what had contributed to the Western Cape's citizens not being too keen to use any of the digitised methods of being counted. Was the mop-up campaign helping, considering that the Western Cape was an urban area?
She asked what the cost of the post-enumeration survey was, and whether it still fell under the budget for Census 2022. How had the Department managed the situation in the Western Cape, as they had had to bring in enumerators from other provinces? She was concerned about the accuracy of the statistics from the Western Cape, as the Department had experienced many problems.
Mr Ashwell Jenneker, Deputy Director-General (DDG): Statistical Operations and Provincial Coordination, StatsSA, replied that a reason for the lack of response by people to the census was an overabundance of caution against crime. He said that for the Census 2022, Covid-19 had had a significant impact on interactions between people, with them either being reluctant or declining to engage with others. Another reason was that citizens' faith in the government was extremely low.
Mr Jenneker said that to turn around the issues in the Western Cape, the Department had partnered with the Provincial Government, which had helped them with communication. All the mayors in the various municipalities had engaged their citizens, which had made a significant difference, with farmers calling the Department asking to be counted. In the end, they managed to count 74% and 8% online in the field. The online count for the Western Cape was more than any other province. Having 82% of the people in the Western Cape counted was a respectable number that the Department could work with.
The Department intended to release user-friendly statistics to ensure that people did not fear statistics. It would try to take the statistics to all the stakeholder communities and make them simple enough for everyone to understand. Over time, the people would warm to statistics and realise their importance once they were used. This was one of the ways to ensure the growth of public trust in the statistics and the statistical system.
Mr Calvin Molongoana, Acting DDG: Statistical Support and Project Director for Census 2022, said the Department needed to maximise the usage of other languages to ensure that people did not fear statistics. They are currently disseminated in English, while the majority of people might not be conversant with the language. This would result in a lack of appreciation by the public for the importance and benefits of statistics. He felt it was imperative that the Department use other languages to explain the basics of statistics. This would also go a long way in ensuring that citizens were not scared of statistics.
He said the digital modes of conducting the census had been introduced mostly due to the impact of Covid 19, which kept changing from time to time. The uptake in the digital modes had not been satisfactory, so the Department intended to try and demonstrate the benefits of statistics to sampled communities by showing that door-to-door was not the only way they could be counted. The online platforms for the census were free of charge, and he hoped that if the Department maintained this, the public attitudes would shift.
Further, Mr Molongoana said that uptake in the digital modes could also be improved if the Department demonstrated to the public how the information collected was kept confidential, even online.
On the issue of ‘fake news,' he said that the Department needed to use not only publicity and communication initiatives during the census, as this was a pressured period. This was not sufficient to reach out to all sectors of society. He agreed that the Department needed to put a more concerted effort into ensuring that there were programmes that continuously informed and educated members of the public so that they were able to understand that participating in the census and other household surveys was a civic duty that assisted the country in ensuring that it had the appropriate information to plan and monitor.
Mr Bruce Jooste, Acting DDG: Corporate Services, responded to the Chairperson’s question regarding the vehicle shortage, and said that because of Covid-19 in 2020 and during the 2020/21 financial year, a lot of the rental companies had disposed of their rental fleet. This trend continued into 2021, so the uptake of new stock was slow. At the time of the census, the Department required 4 500 vehicles, but due to the shortage, they had to get vehicles on a staggered basis. In addition, the Department had also been unable to get the vehicles they wanted to use for rural areas. He maintained that the effects of Covid-19 were still being felt.
Mr Jooste said that the cost of the post-enumeration survey was included in the Department's MTEF allocations. There was a budget of R96.039 million for the post-enumeration survey. The Department had requested a rollover of funds from the 2021/22 financial year. They were also seeking additional funding due to the challenges identified and the extension of the census project. He confirmed that the Department was engaging with the National Treasury to seek additional funding through the adjusted estimates of national expenditure (AENE) process.
Replying to Ms Ndongeni’s question about the dropouts, he said they had many students that were contract workers. When the census was extended, the students had to terminate their employment because they had to return to university. This had happened in all the areas. Some people were permanently employed and had to resume work. People who had criminal records also had to be terminated after screening.
Mr Maluleke responded to the Chairperson’s question regarding the fleet, saying that despite the relaxation of restrictions, there had been no ready uptake because not many people were flying out to different destinations within the country. He reminded the Committee that most fleet businesses were around airports, and that the lifting of restrictions had been progressive, by which time they were 75% done with the census.
He asked the Committee to acknowledge that the census preparation was done under very difficult and trying circumstances. Other nations had cancelled their planned census exercises, and the countries that had proceeded with the census had not experienced the same challenges as South Africa.
The Statistician-General said that in some cases, the Department had to use donkey carts and horse carriages, which at times had to be fitted with tracking devices to know their locations. Due to rains in KwaZulu-Natal, their vehicles had to be assisted by oxen pulling them out of sinking mud. He confessed that he was scared by the commitment of StatsSA workers when he saw that they were crossing a swollen river which could have swept them away at any moment, or even led to them being eaten by crocodiles. He had made efforts to track some of these workers down and, while appreciating their commitment, had asked them not to put their lives at risk.
Mr Maluleke acknowledged that there had been imposters, but said that the Department had been able to apprehend them in most cases. However, crime went beyond the Department, so they had been working with provincial and district joint operations committees (JOCs) to report cases. They had been encouraged by the swift action of the police, in collaboration with the members of the public. He confirmed that the Department was actively dealing with the issue of imposters.
The low participation in the Western Cape also went beyond Stats SA. The apathy in matters of public participation, including the country's democratisation process, had been noticeable for some time. He noted that even the voter turnout during elections had decreased with each election period, so the low participation numbers were not only confined to the census. The Department had engaged different groups on social media, reaching out to various neighbourhoods.
Regarding electronic enumeration, the Statistician-General commented that there were times that the Department had to send reminders to fill out the forms. He had conducted previous censuses in the Western Cape, and StatsSA knew that it was always a difficult province, with the highest under-count in 2011. He said that the under-count was not bad, as knowing the precise under-count helped the Department use the methods at their disposal to adjust the population count accordingly.
He said that situation in the 2022 census had been different, as certain races did not wish to be counted by enumerators outside their respective races. This was more prevalent in the Western Cape, despite also being prevalent in other neighbourhoods. The farming communities that had been uncooperative since 1996 had been the Department’s biggest supporters. The reasons for refusal to participate may not be known, but as the Department went back to report with census results, they intended to try and understand these communities so that it was able to serve the public better.
They intended to ask members of the public to learn why some of them had refused to participate, and how the Department could help them be active participants. He emphasised that the statistics were important not only for the Department, but also for the public to use in making critical decisions.
He expressed the Department's commitment to working alongside the Select Committee to find ways to resolve these issues.
The Chairperson thanked the Statistician-General and the Department for the presentation and their responses. She expressed her concern in light of Mr Maluleke’s last remarks about what transpired in the Western Cape. She said that the racism that still existed in the Western Cape was a concern, and found it quite shameful that StatsSA had experienced this from all the denominations in the province. She thought that the issue of racism should be a big concern that the national and provincial governments should consider. She told Mr Maluleke that the Department’s experience was something that the residents of the Western Cape dealt with daily.
Being the representative of the Western Cape in the National Council of Province (NCOP), the Chairperson was extremely disturbed that issues of racism were so prevalent that they had affected the Department’s ability to carry out its responsibilities. She urged the Committee Members to try and look into how they could raise this concern while working with the Ministry of Sports, Art and Culture, to see a roll-out of social cohesion programmes in the Western Cape.
Statistician Genera's closing remarks
Mr Maluleke said the day’s presentation had encompassed just one of their products, as they had a large number of products. They were working on a programme with Parliament where the Department would train Parliamentarians to appreciate some of their available products. This would enable the Committee to have all the necessary tools in their oversight functions, including empirical evidence.
Adoption of Minutes
The minutes of the Committee's virtual meeting on 7 June 2022 were adopted.
The meeting was adjourned.
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