South Africa

  • Profile
    • Population: 58 million people
  • Training institutions of Social Work (16)
    • University of Pretoria, Department of Social Work and Criminology
    • University of the Free State, Department of Social Work
    • North-West University, School of Psychosocial Health
    • University of Witwatersrand, School of Human and Community Development, Department of Social Work
    • Stellenbosch University, Department of Social Work
    • University of Johannesburg, Department of Social Work
    • University of South Africa (UNISA), Department of Social Work
    • University of Zululand, Department of Social Work
    • University of Western Cape, Department of Social Work/Development
    • Nelson Mandela University, Department of Social Development Professions
    • University of Fort Hare, Department of Social Work and Social Development
    • University of KwaZulu-Natal, School of Social Work and Community Development
    • University of Limpopo, Department of Social Work
    • University of Venda, Department of Social Work
    • Walter Sisulu University
    • Hugenote College, Social Work
  • Organisations and associations of social work
    • South African Council for Social Service Professions (SACSSP)
    • National Association of Social Workers (South Africa)
    • South African Association for Social Workers in Private Practice (SAASWIPP)
  • Laws and policies
    • Social Work Act of 1978
  • Publications
    • Southern African Journal of Social Work and Social Development
    • Social Work/Maatskaplike Werk
  • History of Social Work
    • In presenting the history of social work in South Africa, Smith (2021) emphasised the importance of being critical and use a decolonial lens because “The task of examining the origins and development of social work in South Africa and internationally is fraught with competing histories and narratives and discontinuities.  Individualist,  liberal,  colonial,  masculine  and  ‘white’  hegemonic  discourses  generally  prevail”, (p. 156). Smith (2021) argued that history of social work must include race relations, domination, colonisation and exploitation. It is not enough to just list dates and what happened without examining broader structural issues that shaped social work. “Through  hegemonic discourses, social work generally supported the maintenance of the racist status  quo  and  the  capitalist  mode  of  production,  with  individualist  and  liberal  ideologies of freedom of choice and personal responsibility”, said Smith, 2021, p. 178. The history of social services, social welfare, social development and social work in South Africa will be presented in three broad phases: the indigenous phase, colonial phase, pre and professional social work phase and pre and post-independence phase.
    • Acknowledgements: Smith, L. (2021) Historiography of South African social work: challenging dominant discourses. Critical Proposals in Social Work, 3(1), 155-185
  • Indigenous phase – South Africa was inhabited by Black people including the Khoi, San and the Bantu people since time immemorial. Social services, welfare and social security were based on ubuntu values of reciprocity, kinship and kingship. The people relied on their land for survival and they had long-standing relations. The indigenous leadership had Kings who ruled their countries, with sub-kings and area leaders helping them. The leaders were revered and they maintained social order and led their communities during periods of social and other crisis.
  • Colonial phase – This phase started in 1652 by the Dutch who instituted slavery, killings, forced labour and dispossession of land, pastures and livestock. Colonisation was resisted, but other black communities did not win the fight, their people disintegrated. Such were the Khoi, pastoral people who lost their land, pastures and livestock and were made landless and powerless slave labourers. After the population of the Khoi was quite diminished, and there was no longer enough labour for the Dutch Boers, in 1768 they started to bring in slaves from Angola and Ghana. Most of these slaves were pirated from ships that were going to Brazil. More slaves were bought from ships coming from Madagascar, West Indies, East Africa, Mozambique, India and other surrounding areas. By 1807 when slave trade was banned, about 60 000 slaves had been brought into South Africa. Slavery continued up to 1934 because those who were already slaves in 1807 remained so. White people were mainly in the Cape, but later moved inland. In 1795, the Cape fell to the British, reverted to the Dutch in 1803 and the British again in 1806. More colonists came when minerals were discovered (diamonds, 1867 and gold, 1884). British rule resulted in the Dutch moving inland, and taking land of the Khoi, Tembu, Pondo, Fingo, Xhosa and Zulu. As Tsotsi (2002 said, Europeans defeated, robbed and ruled blacks for the  enrichment  of  whites. Land, which was the means of production was taken, what followed was massive deprivation and dependence on the colonial system for survival. Industrialisation, urbanisation and mining resulted in more colonists arriving in the country. Discovery of diamonds in South Africa (1867) resulted in more inequality. New avenues for cheap and forced labour emerged. Urban and mining centres grew, resulting in more social problems. During this phase, more laws of dispossession were passed. A law to reduce the traditional land of black people to one plot to force them to seek work in mines and industries – Glen  Gray  Act  (1894). The South African Natives Land Act (1913) was passed to give blacks only 10% of their land. However, political consciousness grew, and the African National Congress (ANC) was founded in (1912). Role of the Church during colonisation – “Liberal,  philanthropic  organisations  such  as  the  London  Missionary  Society (LMC) centred   on   converting   the   ‘heathen’   to   Christianity and spreading ‘civilisation’. However, beyond Christian liberal discourse and missionary zeal was a capitalist and imperialist motive. William Wilberforce, leader of  the  London  Missionary  Society, wrote that Christianity teaches the poor to be diligent, humble, patient and obedient, and to accept their lowly position in life, making inequalities between themselves and the rich  appear  to  be  less  galling  (Smith citing Majeke,  1953)”.  The LMC set base in South Afruica around 1795 and used the bible to advance colonial interests. “While our missionaries are everywhere scattering the seeds of civilisation … they  are extending the British empire … Wherever the missionary places his standard   among a savage tribe, their prejudices against the colonial government give way,  their dependence upon the colony is increased by the creation of artificial wants …  Industry, trade and agriculture spring up … and every  genuine convert becomes the  friend and ally of the colonial government”, a missionary named Philip, said in 1821).
Photo of Charlotte
  • Charlotte Makgomo-Mannya Maxeke (1871-1939) – Mother of Social Work and Mother of Black Freedom in South Africa
    • Pre and professional social work phase – During this period, ‘social work’ contributed to juvenile  reform  and  the colonial  capitalism project. These projects included work in colonial prisons, lunatic asylums and hospitals. Social workers like Emily  Hobhouse (a British social worker in South Africa) feature frequently during this period but just like Jane Adams in the USA and Octavia Hill in Britain, they were not merely driven by philanthropy and social justice, but colonial values that devalued the poor, ‘heathen’ and non-white people. During the war of the Europeans in South Africa, Emily Hobhouse campaigned for services for white people in camps in 1899. Emily was British and had experience or training in social services from there. In other histories of social work in South Africa, Emily is usually given prominence yet Ma Mexete contributed more significantly to social work. Charlotte Makgomo-Mannya Maxeke (1871-1939) – Mother of Social Work and Mother of Black Freedom in South Africa – Mama Maxeke was born in 1871 (other sources say 1874) in Ramokgopa, Polokwane District (then Pietersburg District), Limpopo Province, South Africa. At this point there was no formal social work training. Those who practiced ‘social work’ at this time were either educated in other disciplines or had skills in welfare, management or church or political work.  She was the first known welfare worker or ‘social worker’ in South Africa, was ‘a campaigner for women’s  and  workers’  rights,  she was a ‘native  welfare  officer’  or parole officer for juvenile delinquents at  the  Johannesburg Magistrate’s Courts (Smith, 2021, p. 165). Although she did not have a social work qualification, Charlotte is regarded as the first South African social worker, just like many people who founded social work in other parts of the world without social work qualifications. Her father was John Kgope Mannya, his grandfather was headman Modidima Mannya of the Batlokwa people, under Chief Mamafa Ramokgopa. She obtained a degree in 1901 (others say 1902 or 3) from University of Wilberforce in the USA, becoming the first black South African to do so. At that time, pan-Africanist William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was a lecturer at the same university. She organised women to protest segregation laws, including the infamous pass laws. She wrote about social injustices in isiXhosa. In 1918 she founded the Bantu Women’s League (BWL) which later became the African National Congress Women’s League. Together with 700 other women, Maxeke marched to the Bloemfontein City Council and burned their passes there. Her husband Marshall Maxeke, was also politically active and they worked together. She has been honoured by having roads  and buildings named after her, and an annual lecture hosted by the ANC, a part he contributed to. Sources: South Africa History Online, Charlotte (née Manye) Maxeke, https://www.sahistory.org.za/people/charlotte-nee-manye-maxeke and Smith (2021) Professional social work – During this phase social work became formalised with introduction of social work training and state institutions as follows:
        • University of Cape Town in 1924, social work diploma course
        • Minnie  Hofmeyr  College  for  coloured women  (Dutch Reformed  Church)
        • Huguenot College (initially known as Friedenheim College) in 1931
        • Stellenbosch University  in 1932, first degree course in social work
        • Transvaal University College started social work 1929 (the University of Pretoria)
        • University of the Witwatersrand  in  1937
        • DeColigny  Training  Institution  (Dutch  Reformed  Church  Seminary, Transkei)
        • Strydom College Training School
        • Jan  Hofmeyr  College  for  black  social  workers  in  Johannesburg in  1941.  The Jan  Hofmeyr  School  of  Social  Work  graduates  included  Ellen  Kuzwayo,  Joshua  Nkomo,  Winnie  Mandela  and  Gibson Kente. Despite its success, the college was closed by the state machinery in 1950 for not supporting colonial ideals (Smith, 2021).
      • In 1937, the Department of Welfare was established. The issues that concerned training and practice this time were all to achieve social control. For example, fertility programs were meant to reduce the population of Black people and prevent premarital sex, mixed race sex and sexually transmitted infections. These projects targeted young people together with boy  scouts  and  girl  guides  programs for whites and wayfarers  and  pathfinders  for non-whites.
      • The  curriculum  content  was  based  on  British  and  American  models,  focusing on individual deficits that was recommended in the Carnegie Report. The 1932 Report of the Carnegie Commission of Inquiry (the Poor White study)shaped the formation of the Department of Social Welfare as well as the training of social workers. The ideology of the report was to maintain white supremacy through segregation. The report emphasised individual traits and psychological characteristics as causes of poverty.
      • Pre and post-independence phase – More suppression of political activists and organizations was done through laws, jailing, shootings, banning and restricting movement. The Bantu  Authorities’  Act  of  1951 cut the power of traditional leaders, reduced their work to tax collection and agriculture. In 1956-1961, the Rivonia treason trial of Mandela, Mbeki and others happened and they were jailed to restrict political activities. The Suppression of Communism Act was widely used to suppress fight for independence. On 16 June 1960, the Sharpeville massacre resulted in the death of several children who were marching. The day is now recognised as the Day of the African Child. In 1977, Steve Biko of South African Students Organisation and Black Consciousness movement was murdered. People like Biko campaigned for justice and rural social development but social services this time were concerned with social control and maintaining white supremacy. The South African Black Social Workers Association (SABSWA) in the 1980s participated in political action. Towards 1990, social workers like Helen Kuzwayo and  Winnie  Mandela  participated in political action with organizations such as Free the Children Campaign, the National Children’s Rights Committee and the Detainees Parents Support Committee. In 1994, South Africa gained independence. This was followed by Nelson Mandela becoming President. A Truth and Reconciliation process followed. Land dispossession was not addressed so land has not been returned to those who were dispossessed over two decades after independence.
      • Current status of social work
      • Focus on indigenous and decolonial social work
      • Promotion of developmental  social work
        • economic  development
        • land justice, land as a means of production 
        • empowerment and building  human  capabilities
        • non-remedial  intervention
        • participation and inclusion
        • human and community rights and responsibilities
      • The White Paper for Social  Welfare  principles  –  democracy,  equity,  ubuntu,  non-discrimination,  human  rights,  people-centredness, human capital, sustainability and partnership.
      • Independence policies – South  African  Constitution 1996, Growth,  Employment  and  Redistribution  programme  (GEAR) 1996, Redistribution and Development Programme (RDP) 2006
      • HIV/AIDS crisis
      • Social and political movements – Economic Freedom Front (EFF), Rhodes Must Fall, the Landless Peoples Movement and many others

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