Fundi – The African Dictionary and Encyclopaedia of Social Work

Funda is a Swahili or Shona word that means to teach or to learn. It comes from the words kufunda (to learn), kufundiswa (to be taught), kufundiswa (to be taught) or fundisha (learn). The name of the dictionary, Fundi, was derived from these words.

Fundi should be read read in conjunction with Uwongo, a list of words that communicate falsehoods about African social work or Africa in general. Uwongo means false, untrue, biased or demeaning of African values and ways of life. In short, uwongo words are not appropriate for use in African social work.

Unless otherwise indicated, cite information from this dictionary as follows:

African Social Work Network (ASWNet), (2021). Fundi: The African Dictionary and Encyclopaedia of Social Work. Harare, ASWNet.


 Acculturation: a process of learning another culture to the extent that you allow it to replace your own culture or you wrongly accept it as your own culture. It is a result of social, economic, psychological and political processes of the dominant culture that weaken and attract 'converts' from other cultures. Acculturation has several negative consequences including but not limited to conflict in family and community, mental health, colonial mentality, mental slavery,disempowerment and low self-esteem.
 African dream: pan-African aspirations of a united or integrated, peaceful, independent, self-sustaining, people-centred and prosperous continent where citizens have adequate land for settlement and agriculture, enough food and health and are proud of their culture and heritage. 
 African renaissance: a time in future when Africa overcomes all its current challenges. At that point Africans will take pride in their culture, brain drain and labour drain will be reversed. Africa will be peaceful, united and just to all. The concept is credited to Senegalese historian, anthropologist, physicist and politician Cheikh Anta Diop but has been promoted by luminaries like Thabo Mbeki.
 African social work: refers to (1) they kind of social work that is relevant and pr, preferred and practiced in Africa (2) social work services provided at the continental level by organisations like the African Union or sub-continental level by organsiations like the ECOWAS.
 Afriture: African literature, written or not written.
 African diaspora: the African Union (AU) defines the African diaspora as consisting: "of people of native African origin living outside the continent, irrespective of their citizenship and nationality and who are willing to contribute to the development of the continent and the building of the African Union 
 Aid: help, assistance, gift or relief provided by a family, community, organisation (donor, giver or aider) or country to another family, community, organisation or country (receiver or aidee) in the form of money (e.g. cash or grant), food, clothing, water, houses, energy, medicines, body organs (e.g. kidneys or sperms) equipment, books, toiletries, jobs (allowing people from another country to work in another), labour (e.g. experts like researchers, doctors and engineers or general like drivers), security personnel, arms, jobs, scholarships, adoption home, foster home and subsidies (e.g. cheap loans or reduced tax). Aid can be driven by humanitarian or voluntary altruism or aimed at some economic, social, cultural, diplomatic and political benefits in return. International, foreign or overseas aid involve a giver and receiver in different continents. It can be given to address an emergency situation (short-term), for welfare (medium-term) or for development purposes (long-term). 
 Assimilation: this process includes acculturation and deculturation and is very dangerous. While people's culture is being erased, it is being forcefully, gradually or covertly replaced with the dominant culture. It often involves replacing religions, languages, knowledge (education), laws and race. The biological process of race replacement is the highest form of assimilation.
 Babekazi: aunt or father’s sister. In Africa babekazi occupies a very important position in families and communities. She is a father (yes father!), mentor, disciplinarian, confidant, educator, counsellor and offers a critical, political, cultural and gender voice. This space on this website is dedicated to Babekazi, also known as tete or shangazi.
 Black people or person: from the African sense, Black people are distinguishable from zungu (non-black people) by their light black to black skin and facial looks. Black people are originally from Africa, including those in Oceania (e.g. Papua New Guinea and Aborigine people). In some western countries, people of mixed races (black and white) are referred to as black but this is a colonial view that neglects, denies, ignores or refuses them their white heritage. The noun 'people or person of colour' is foreign to Africa, and is rarely used. 
 Chama: rotational savings (Swahili). Similar to mukando (Zimbabwe) and stokvel (South Africa).
 Child labour: this is work that is done by people below the age of 16 years. Child labour does not mean harmful or exploitative work. The labour that children provide can be manual or physical; social and intellectual. It can be paid or unpaid. It can be for their intellectual and physical development or for family, community or societal development. The dominant discourse is that child labour is harmful and exploitative but this is not correct. In Africa, work that educates, trains and teaches a child responsibility is not harmful or exploitative. The expectation that all training happens in formal schools is wrong. Again, the expectation that all children will learn vocations at school, and end up working in industries and offices is wrong. In Africa, most end up as farmers, miners, fishers and domestic workers. They use their training from home and the community for survival. Even after retirement, Africans revert back to farming and other occupations. That is why home and community training is valued. Further, in Africa work and play and integrated which is why most work cannot be said to deprive children of their play time. Specific types of child labour include learning to farm at home or school; learning to fish, mine or hunt in the community; all physical or intellectual learning that happens at school; child sporting or entertainment and many others. Why is that when a child plays soccer and sweats for 90 minutes or appears in a movie to entertain it is not considered harmful but if they learn to swim while fishing for the family or learn to till the soil while growing food for their family it becomes harmful? All these types are potentially harmful or exploitative, hence there is often supervision and reduction of time children do these activities. Another factor in Africa is obligation and responsibility, that is, when a child’ welfare, or that of their family or community could be enhanced through work, then children need to work under certain circumstances. Each family and community has unwritten laws to protect children, and states have written laws to protect children. There are international laws which unfortunately use a narrow definition of child labour, equating it with harmful work and relying on western concepts of child rearing and development. Use of these narrow definitions has resulted in conflict in homes and communities as others focus more on rights created in international policies at the expense of responsibility and obligation. Myths: all child labour or work is harmful. Myths: all the work that children do at home and in agriculture is harmful. Myths: Africans do not know what is harmful for their children, actually there are many unwritten laws to protect children. Myths: training for life is best obtained from formal schools or classrooms. Myths: children do not work in developed countries, they do work, only that the economic environments, activities and values are different. 
 Community development: a method of intervention that prevents and addresses long-term problems, challenges, threats or issues and utilises community assets, opportunities and participation. Community development focuses on long-term well-being and addresses long-term needs, it is often preventive, empowers and builds         
capacity. Community development cannot be done on behalf of the community 
 Community work: a method of intervention that addresses immediate, short and medium-term problems, challenges, threats or issues and utilises community assets, opportunities and participation. The assets can be human, family, environmental, spiritual or otherwise and can also come from outside. Community work focuses on short-term welfare and addresses immediate needs, it is often reactive. Community work can be done on behalf of the community 
 Community: a collection of households in a specific geographical area.
 Community-determination: a principle of Ubuntu that community choices are more valued than individual choices.
 Country: refers to all land under the jurisdiction of a King or all the lands of kings under one paramount King put together. For example, in Zimbabwe Mambo (sub-King) Nyashanu's Country or land is called Uhera. King Nyashanu and several other Mambo make up Dzimbabwe country, whose last paramount King was Mambo Tohwechipi of the Rozvi Dynasty. The country of Dzimbabwe is now Zimbabwe. 
 Culturation: a process of internalising or being socialised into one's own culture through parental, family and community teaching and observation but also reading, watching and behaving. 
 Dare: pronounced daaree. Dare means a sitting of 5 to 15 people to make a decision or to discuss an issue. Mkutano is done with 1 to 5 people (meeting). An indaba is similar but often has 15-30 people while an ungano has more than 30 people.
 Dare court: a sitting of 3 to 15 people to deliberate a criminal, juvenile, civil, community or other case and pass a determination or sentence.
 Dare research: a sitting of 3 to 15 people to deliberate a research question. This method can be sued by researchers to reach an agreement or by research participants to provide their views to a researcher. 
 Deculturation: a process of erasing people's culture, and replacing it with something different.
 Developed community: a community that has all the tangible and non-tangible goods, infrastructure and services required to satisfy their short- and long-term needs
 Development: a process of ensuring that a community has all the tangible and non-tangible goods, infrastructure and services required to satisfy their short- to long-term needs. A developed community has all the tangible and non-tangible goods, infrastructure, human expertise and community services required to satisfy their short- to long-term needs
 Developmental approach: a process of development that prevents and looks at needs in the long term as opposed to welfare
 Developmental social work: a process of development that balances social and economic development 
 Ecological social work: Also known as environmental and green social work. It means using the environment to enhance development, promote social functioning and to prevent social problems.
Entrepreneur: an adventurous person with innovative skills and willing to take risks by investing in a risky project and shows great risk mitigation skills to succeed in their venture
 False conservation: a situation where land or natural resources are taken away from a community under the pretext that they are failing to conserve it. This can be done by government, local government or non-government organisations. The land is often used for commercial purposes neglecting the livelihoods of the people. In other cases, foreign forms of conservation are prioritised at the expense of local knowledge systems. 
 Family: a collection of social units made up of a father, one or more mothers and children who are from a common ancestry and share one musha (permanent home).
 Family-determination: a principle of Ubuntu that families choices are more valued than individual choices. 
 Fufu: see Ugali
 Growth-oriented project: a project identified at the community and shows all potential for growth and sustainability based on utilization of local available resources and active local participation
 Kurutsa: this concept means to decolonise. It comes from the word rutsa which means vomit. 
 Kushava: When a person leaves their home to work in another area, town, country or continent, it is called kushava
 Kushusha: a form of abuse characterised by deprivation, emotional harm, violence especially against women and children at home
 Kuumba (mentoring): transferring knowledge and skills to muumbwi (mentee), usually younger and less experienced that the muumbi (mentor) in a manner that is appropriate and acceptable to a cultural, natural or artificial setting.
 Kuumbana: peer mentoring
 Homehold: a home and people living in it. A home can have one or more households or families
 Household: a house and its occupants (applies to urban houses that are often single)
 Land: refers to the space owned by a family, clan or community  where homes, farmland, livestock, pastures and cemeteries are found. Enough land must be able to meet economic, spiritual, accommodation/habitation and social needs of the people.
 Land reform: a process to move people from reserves back to the lands that were forcibly dispossessed by colonists. This is a social justice issue which can not be silenced by reconciliation. The objective is to ensure that everyone has enough land for economic, social, habitation and spiritual needs including lands to build a home, farm, keep livestock, pastures, connect with a community or clan, live in own ancestral country and pass on to offspring. 
 Madiba syndrome:a situation where you allow the coloniser or enemy to define you, your needs, problems, solutions and future. This followed former South African President Nelson Madiba Mandela's legacy which is largely defined by the west. For the west, Mandela was coincerned with apartheid, but for the African he was concerned with overcoming colonisation. For white people Mandela was concerned with equality, but for the African he was concerned with Africanism (returning stolen land and freedom) but allowed white people to define his path. 
 Mukando: rotational savings (Zimbabwe). Similar to chama (Swahili) and stokvel (South Africa)
 Munyai: a munyai is a messenger, intermediary or ambassador who represents the approaching family in marriage ceremonies. In community work, conflict resolution or research, a munyai is the intermediary who connects the organisation or workers with the community, families or potential research participants. The munyai approach is respectful and reduces communication and cultural barriers. 
Musha: permanent home in ancestral lands and country. Musha has land, houses, livestock, pastures, community and cemeteries. It has spiritual, social and economic significance. Musha is connected to other misha of relatives, friends, community, country and continent.
 Multiculturation: a process of learning or mixing cultures together with the hope of promoting multiculturalism but multiculturalism itself is a fallacy which doesn't work, it can not be achieved where there is a dominant or colonising culture. Multiculturalism can be used to hide histories of colonisation. Due to multiculturation, the dominant culture usually swallows the less dominant group through assimilation. Multiculturalism could work where there are no racial differences.  
 Muzungu: means a white person including Europeans, Americans, Arabs, Asians, Indians and mixed race people. In the African sense, all people not black are zungu. Names in other Bantu languages are mlungu, malungu, mulungu, mhlungu, umhlungu, imuzungu, omusongo, mũthũngũ, buzungu, mulungu, msungu and murungu. Plural is wazungu, varungu, vozongo, abelungu or bazungu. The name is derived  from zunguka, dzungaira, dzungu or zungu which mean being unsettled, having no permanent home (musha) or wandering. It is acceptable and not offensive to call all non-black or white people by these names. In some western countries, people of mixed races (black and white) are referred to as black but this is a colonial view that neglects, denies, ignores or refuses them their white heritage.
 Na banye: this means and others or et al. It can be used when citing four or more authors e.g. Lungwa na banye is the same as saying Lungwa et al. Na banye is Zulu or Xhosa language, ne vamwe is Shona, na wengine is Swahili, ndi ena is Nyanja, n'abandi is Kinyarwanda
Orature: oral literature. It includes folklore, songs, stories, poems, metaphors or idioms, proverbs, gestures, riddles, judgements, histories, wisdoms, rules, methods, genealogies (family trees) and names.
 Participation: a process whereby beneficiaries of community projects make decisions about their needs, priorities and interventions in line with their aspirations
 Nyika: Country(land owned by a King) or country (nation state)
 Reserve land (reserves): colonially established spaces where colonised people were crowded to enable the colonialists to occupy land or to control the colonised. These were massive prisons of dispossession. When the colonists settled, these reserves became permanent. The reserves have inadequate land for each household to practice economic, social and spiritual activities. Land reforms seek to move people from reserves back to the lands that were forcibly dispossessed. 
 Rifa: knowledge or heritage. Africa is endowed with a rich heritage of knowledge covering all facets of life – social, economic, spiritual, political, environmental, philosophical and many more. This knowledge was passed down from generation to generation, and informs everyday decisions people make but is often under-utilised in professions like social work and development. Some of this wisdom is now recorded, in video, audio, textual, graphic or artistic formats but most of it remains oral and practical. Rifa includes folklore, songs, stories, poems, metaphor or idiom, proverbs, gestures, riddles, judgements, paintings and sculptures. Rifa also includes skills, experiences, wisdoms, rules, methods, names, ceremonies, rituals, observations of nature and designs.
 Roora: these are marriage gifts given to the family of the woman from where a family of a man has married. The gifts can include livestock or money paid before marriage and during marriage. The role of roora is to formalise relationships of the two families involved. There are usually gifts for the woman being married, their mother, father, sisters, aunts, brothers and the whole family gathering and community in terms of food. There are others who wrongly say roora is abusive to women or a burden to men, but through the world people share marriage gifts, in other countries they pay several times more than what is paid in Africa. The forms of payment vary, so are the values attached to it. In Africa, it is about creating stronger relationships and bringing families together based on love and respect. It is not a commercial activity and not always paid at once. Others names for roora include lobola. Bride price is a wrong word for roora, often used by those who criticise this cultural practice. 
 Seva: a type of teaching delivery that involves moments of uninterrupted talk followed by verbal or non verbal confirmation from the audience. Confirmation motivates the speaker or teacher through clapping, nodding, standing, laughing, adding examples, saying 'seva seva' or for sermons, amen. It is a popular teaching method in Africa and the African diaspora used in classroom lectures, sermons or speeches. It is not pronounced as sevha.
 Social capital: these are the social resources that a family or community has, for example, ubuntu that increases justice and familyhood, ujamaa that increases labour, umuganda that increases communityhood and machobane which increases sustainability.
 Social exclusion: a situation where a member of the family, community or nation faces barriers that prevent them from accessing rights and responsibilities that should be available to them.
 Social enterprise: a community-based intervention originally started as social activity and grant funded initiative with capacity to raise income. Social enterprises are income generating projects that have escalated to another level of enterprise
 Social work: an academic discipline and profession that embraces and enhances long-held methods of addressing life challenges in order to achieve social functioning, development, cohesion and liberation using diverse African indigenous knowledges and values enshrined in the family, community, society, environment and spirituality (African Journal of Social Work, 2020).
 Stokvel: rotational savings (South Africa). Similar to mukando (Zimbabwe) and chama (Swahili).
 Ubudehe: a collective cultural value of working cooperatively. Similar concepts in some communities include nhimbe (Zimbabwe), ikibiri (Burundi), msaragambo (Tanzania), bulungi bwansi and gwanga mujje (Uganda) and harambee (Kenya)
 Ubuntu: a collection of values and practices that black people of Africa or of African origin view as making people authentic human beings. While the nuances of these values and practices vary across different ethnic groups, they all point to one thing – an authentic individual human being is part of a larger and more significant relational, communal, societal, environmental and spiritual world. The term ubuntu is expressed differently is several African communities and languages but all referring to the same thing. In Angola, it is known as gimuntu, Botswana (muthu), Burkina Faso (maaya), Burundi (ubuntu), Cameroon (bato), Congo (bantu), Congo Democratic Republic (bomoto/bantu), Cote d’Ivoire (maaya), Equatorial Guinea (maaya), Guinea (maaya), Gambia (maaya), Ghana (biako ye), Kenya (utu/munto/mondo), Liberia (maaya), Malawi (umunthu), Mali (maaya), Mozambique (vumuntu), Namibia (omundu), Nigeria (mutunchi/iwa/agwa), Rwanda (bantu), Sierra Leonne (maaya), South Africa (ubuntu/botho), Tanzania (utu/obuntu/bumuntu), Uganda (obuntu), Zambia (umunthu/ubuntu) and Zimbabwe (hunhu/unhu/botho/ubuntuUbuntu social work: refers to social work that is theoretically, pedagogically and practically grounded in ubuntu.  
 Ugali (fufu): this refers to Africa's staple food, the mainstay of all African diets. It is known by other names such garri or gari, nsima, vuswa, bogobe, fufu, funge, gauli, gima, isitshwala, kimnyet, kuon, mieliepap, ngima, nshima, obokima, obuchima, obusuma, oshifima, oruhere, pap, phutu, posho, sadza, ubugali, umutsima, obusuma or injera. It is widely known as fufu in Benin, CAR,Congo, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Togo and many other countries. It is made from crushed, pounded, grounded or milled maize, cassava, plantain, banana, sorghum, millet, rapoko or yam but also rice and semolina wheat. The final product is a fine grained delicious think porridge or dough usually eaten hot with vegetable soup, egusi soup or other. Ugali is eaten using one's fingers, and usually it is a family, group or team meal - eating it together symbolises unity, oneness. and acceptance. 
 Ujamaa: cooperating and pulling together as a community to achieve self-help
 Uhuru: freedom
 Ukama: human relations, often biological or those connected by blood. 
 Ukuru: dominance, oppression or colonisation. It can happen at individual, community, societal or global level. The opposite is uhuru, which means freedom. Mukuru is the dominator. Ukuru results in silencing of voices, beliefs, values, theories and thoughts. Due to ukuru, some histories, literatures, symbols and practices are made invisible or are nor recognised
 Umoja: unity
 Vene: indigenous e.g. vene social work means indigenous social work. Vene people means indigenous people. Vene is a Bantu word meaning owner or original. Singular is mwene. 
 Zunde: refers to social welfare or resources for social welfare at the community or national level. 
 Zunde raMambo: Kings social welfare system or resources for social welfare e.g. the King's Welfare Grenary.



Fundi should be read read in conjunction with Uwongo, a list of words that communicate falsehoods about African social work or Africa in general. Uwongo means false, untrue, biased or demeaning of African values and ways of life. In short, uwongo words are not appropriate for use in African social work. Most uwongo words are in English language and they communicate western or colonial inspired ideas about Africa. Instead of using uwongo words, there are several alternatives especially in local language.

Bride price: this noun demeans African culture. Africans do not view the exchange of gifts that happens at marriage as 'a purchase price' as de-valuers of African culture say. Gifts are exchanged to cement new family relationships. 
Child labour: the western version incorrectly assumes all work children do in Africa is detrimental to their growth.
Client: it is disempowering and patronising to refer to people who use social work services as clients. Where social work services are provided using a business or commercial model, the noun client could be used.
Colonial master - this noun is not relevant, it was promoted by colonists or invaders to promote their dominance. 
Cousin: there are no cousins in Africa, they are either brothers or sisters.
Genital mutilation: this noun is used to devalue, denigrate and disrespect individuals, families and societies that, for health or identity reasons, surgically remove small parts of the male or female genital organs or resize them. The devaluing, denigration and disrespect happens in spite of the fact that there are more severe forms especially in the western world including hormonal sex change, sex organ change, enlargement, resizing/shrinking, decoration or removal or reshaping of breasts, buttocks and lips. 
Her (referring to a country or community) - this term is no longer relevant if used to refer to a country or community.
Person or people of colour: Africans do not refer to themselves as people of colour. 
Rights without responsibilities: Africans look at responsibilities first, not rights. 
Settlers - this term was promoted by white colonists but those whose lands they invaded called them invaders or passerby not settlers. They expected them to pass. For example, in Africa rungu (e.g. murungu, mzungu etc) means someone who travels and never settles on one place. 
Third world (3rd world): it is demeaning to refer to Africa as a 3rd world continent.
Totem: this is an English term that does not convey the same meaning in Africa.