Coverage evaluation of South Africa’s last census

Type Working Paper
Title Coverage evaluation of South Africa’s last census
URL evaluation of South​Africa's last census.pdf
South Africa’s census 2011 recorded an undercount estimate of 14.6%, suggesting that about
one person among each seven people was missed. This was despite that census 2011 was
better funded than South Africa’s other previous censuses, and in particular census 1996
which had a lower undercount of 10.6% (Berkwotz, 2013). Funding for census 1996 was
about 5 times less than that for census 2011. Moreover, neighboring Mozambique known to
have small budgets for census taking still managed to record an undercount rate of 6% for
census 1996 (StatsSA, 2011). Expectations are that increase in census funding should lead to
improvement in quality of census enumeration (Gernertzky, 2012). For instance, better
funding in South Africa’s latest census resulted in the incorporation of modern census
techniques like GIS mapping and cartography (Onsembe and Ntozi, 2006), as well as use of
video training and barcodes for questionnaires (Cronje and Budlender, 2004). Such
improvements are expected to translate into better census coverage.
The measurement and adjustment of coverage errors in census 2011 StatsSA who are the
custodians of census processes used Post Enumerative Survey (PES). However, some
researchers have questioned the accuracy of counts that were arrived through this process.
For instance, Dorrington and Moultrie (2012) noted that the publishing of census 2011 results
was too early to have allowed accurate processing of such huge data. For this reason the
researchers, argue that there are strong grounds for doubting the accuracy of the census
counts published by StatsSA. Other researchers also brought forward some evidence to
indicate inaccuracy of this census’ counts. For example, the increase in fertility suggested by
census 2011 was interpreted as inconsistent with prior fertility trends that have prevailed in
South Africa for many decades (Berkowitz, 2013). The argument is that South Africa has
consistently experienced declining fertility as early as 1960s; therefore increase in fertility
suggested by census 2011 indicates inaccuracy of counts especially for children ever born.
There has also been an increase in counts for the female whites aged 20-24 years, which other
census analysts believed can neither be traced from previous censuses nor migration records
(Gernertzky, 2012).
Even some members of the public have also indicated their doubts over figures obtained from
the census, and have expressed their views through social media. For instance, one twitted
that the published counts for census 2011 were a mere political gimmick. The view expressed
was that, the counts were reflective of political interests rather than what should have come
from a genuine census process. Commenting on the increase of white females aged 20-24,
another member from the public mockingly twitted; Hahahahahaa the invasion of the young
white women (rnoliphant, 2012). The twit was meant to express doubts the writer had on the
accuracy of counts for this particular sub population group. Commenting on the increase in
fertility and population of young white women, another twit went as: “The odd baby boom
and the strange influx of young white women” (sarahhemilyduff, 2013).
The views summarized above indicate that among both researchers and members of the
public there are some who are convinced that 2011 census counts are largely inaccurate. The
concern raised cannot be under played as census counts are partly used for resource
allocations, and service delivery planning in South Africa. Taking into cognizance the various
concerns raised by census stakeholders across the South African population on the subject
matter, this study therefore investigated the extent of accuracy of 2011 census counts. The
actual count for any given population is always unknown; hence expecting an actual
population count from a census is unrealistic.

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