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Printed in SA: Angola’s census questionnaires

Next month, Angola is conducting a national population census (its first since 1970) and a South African company has been given the green light to print the census questionnaires, reports Gill Loubser.

As the electronic age cuts into traditional paper-based print markets, S&G Security Printing (a division of Shave & Gibson) has thrown its sales net north of South Africa’s borders and is meeting with considerable success.

‘Last year we printed the Malawi voter registration forms and now we’ve been awarded the contract to print Angola’s census questionnaires,’ recounts S&G Security Printing MD, Jim Short. ‘We’ve also undertaken new cheque business in southern Sudan, Angola and Mozambique, and other government work in Uganda and Botswana.’  

Angola has come a long way in the ten years since the end of a three-decade civil war that killed and displaced millions, destroyed most infrastructure, and left an exhausted, fractured and divided population.  

Today, however, oil exports are spurring the economy and billions of dollars are being poured into repairing roads, railways and airports, and building new schools, hospitals and universities. And national prestige is on the rise, with Angola’s having played host to the Pope and the Africa Cup of Nations, and chosen to head the 15-nation Southern African Development Community.  

Next month’s census is set to establish population figures and other demographic information to help with the planning the country’s continuing restructure.  

High complexity

As Jim Short explains, the printing of these census questionnaires is a highly complex operation.

Angola has 18 provinces, each consisting of four layers of municipalities and downstream communities. Questionnaires for each of these destinations are packed into boxes (110 forms per box), and each box is topped with a GoogleMap to show the precise area covered by the box’s contents. ‘All in all, there are 8.5-million habitats,’ Jim remarks.

Barcoding, of course, is the cornerstone of the functionality of the questionnaires and requires advanced scanning technology. ‘There’s one barcode per household,’ Jim explains, ‘acting in a similar way to the British system of postal codes.’

Of course, tendering for and winning such complex printing contracts in other parts of Africa has only been possible thanks to S&G’s previous experience in printing South Africa’s own census questionnaires and making the necessary investments in printing, collating and barcoding technology.

As a result of winning the tender from Stats SA for printing the 2011 census questionnaire, for instance, a bespoke Bielomatik eight-station roll-collator was installed.

This collating equipment has been dubbed ‘Willy Wonka’s amazing census factory’ by group CEO, Simon Downes! And it’s easy to see his analogy.

One end of the roll-collator is supplemented by two Herma label applicators, applying track-and-trace labels, plus eight DJM Ipas inkjet systems applying barcodes. At the other end is a battery of end-of-line packaging equipment supplied by Future Packaging.

South Africa’s Census 2011 covered some 14 million households, and involved printing 25-million complex 16-page questionnaire booklets, used by some 180 000 numerators. Each facing page of each questionnaire contains a barcode and a number as well as a track-and-trace label containing three more barcodes, each collation having its own unique set of numbers.

The experience gained in managing such complexity has been invaluable in completing the Angolan contract.

Summing up this latest venture into Africa, Simon Downes remarks: ‘When we first invested in security printing in 1996 as a complement to our credit card manufacturing facility, we anticipated a life cycle for the business of around 15 years. We have been amazed at the legs of this sector, which continues to show new pockets of potential. Cheque usage declines at 15% to 20% per annum, and is likely to become functionally extinct within the next four to five years. However, specialised security printing requirements continue to appear elsewhere in Africa where governments rely on the efficiency and security of private sector enterprises. Sadly, the same can’t be said of our own government, whose developmental philosophy seems to exclude private organisations wherever possible, in favour of parastatals!’


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