The political, legal, radical and policy role of social work in Africa

Jacob Rugare Mugumbate

Political, legal, militant and policy social work diverts from the norm, it seeks to strengthen, awaken and challenge systems and institutional structures that necessitate poverty, impede development, perpetuate corruption, maintain colonialism, buttress discrimination and nurture violence. Political social workers aren’t convinced that clinical, welfarist, developmental or spiritual social work approaches are capable of addressing mass poverty in Africa without paying attention to political, legal, power and policy issues. In most cases, communities are not happy with the way those in power use their positions or influence. The social order disadvantages the people we serve but also ourselves, families and communities. Power necessitates social change, so we need it too.

Imagine social workers with these titles: social militant, political social worker, political development worker, radical social worker, social analyst, media social worker, legal social worker, justice social worker, critical social worker, social advocate, social action journalist, human rights worker, decolonial social worker, environmental rights activist and investigative social worker.

In this kind of social work, roles at community, national, continental and global level might include:

  1. Writing advocacy letters, petitions or policy appraisals, briefs and proposals.
  2. Initiating or joining social actions e.g marches, exhibitions and campaigns.
  3. Mounting court challenges.
  4. Researching, investigating, documenting and teaching political social work.
  5. Forming, joining and supporting social movements, political parties, lobbying groups and advocacy organisations. This roles includes influencing and contributing to the creation of their manifestos and agendas.
  6. Compete as candidates in elections for political offices or campaigning for those with agendas that promote objectives of our profession. 
  7. Challenging power imbalances (gender, age, ethnicity, race etc).
  8. Using social, print and other media as a channel for political, legal, critical and policy action and debate.

There will be many other roles. In some of these examples, the roles of social workers will be straightforward, in others they will be translucent but also risky. In any case, the kind of society that we envisage will not happen if we do not contribute directly to its creation. 

There are many social workers who contributed to society politically in Africa, we need to revere them and document their examples. There are those who are doing so at the moment, we need not only learn from them but emulate them.