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The population census is one of the major statistics gathering exercises undertaken by the state, when information on a wide range of personal attributes is demanded. None is more problematic than occupation, which, for clarity, requires the subsequent simplification and classification of the myriad of self-descriptions collected. Nowhere is this more evident than in South Africa before 1958. Conflict between British imperial directives and local peculiarities, notably the issue of race, resulted in the adoption of widely fluctuating classification schemes. Consequently, direct comparisons between the published occupational statistics of successive enumerations are highly problematic, if not impossible.