Keynote address by Minister for Social Development, Ms Bathabile Dlamini, at the launch of the Veteran Social Workers Forum, at OR Tambo International Airport
22 Oct 2012
Deputy Minister of Social Development, Mrs Maria Ntuli,
Senior managers and officials from Social Development,
Veteran Social Workers,
Ladies and gentlemen.
After a lot of engagements and lobbying of various stakeholders to get this initiative of the Veteran Social Workers Forum off the ground, it give me great joy to be here today launching it officially. This is an important day for our country, the Department of Social Development, the social work profession, and more importantly the ordinary South Africans who will benefit from this initiative.
All of us have passionately spoken about the challenges facing social work as a profession in the public service. These challenges continue to have negative effects on the image of the profession as well as the Department of Social Development. As a result, many social workers have left the public sector, opting for more appealing prospects in the private sector. We have also lost social workers to foreign countries.
Needless to say, this drain of social workers has a huge impact on the lives of ordinary South Africans who depend upon the valuable services rendered by social workers. Vulnerable people such as people with disabilities, older persons, children and families affected by HIV and Aids, top the list of those negatively affected.
In the process, the constitutional rights of our people are compromised as a result of inadequate or lack of basic social services. The poor, unemployed, and victims of family violence who require psychosocial services have also been affected by the exodus of social workers.
The outcome is that our people start questioning the role of social workers in our society and the efficiency of the few who have committed to staying in our communities to take on the monumental challenge of providing desperately needed services.
In our attempts to rescue this profession from the brink of collapse, and more importantly to deliver needed services to our people, we took the decision to turn to you, our retired social workers, to offer us your experience and institutional memory in order to make a positive change in the profession itself and in the way we deliver services to our people.
This decision was taken with the aim of reinforcing and bringing back the integrity and dignity of social work in South Africa. We saw it appropriate to establish a forum which will assist with the restoration of social work in the public domain. In order to ensure that the impact of this initiative is felt where it is mostly needed, at grassroots level, we have also pushed for the establishment of dedicated and efficient structures in provinces.
This approach will provide young and upcoming social workers with an opportunity to learn from their veteran counterparts who have been in the field before. It is a major opportunity for social workers who have recently graduated from institutions of higher learning to build working relations with veterans and benefit from their wealth of knowledge.
Those who had the opportunity to visit communities with us during Social Development month outreach activities will attest to the fact that, as I always say, social work is a calling rather than a career. At times this does not sit well with others because we live in a time of many socio-economic challenges where the interests of the individual are put before the interest of society.
However, my message to social workers and those who are willing to be part of this profession and calling is that commitment and passion to serve precede all else. In some of our visits, some of the social workers were found wanting, not because they don’t know what they are supposed to do, but because they lack the passion and commitment to serve our people as they are expected to.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This Forum will not be dictated to by ourselves on how it should go about its work to restore dignity and respect in the social work profession. If we had all the answers there would have been no need to turn to you for help during this difficult time. Our approach is a collaborative one where all of us must engage as equals in order to improve the way we serve our people.
We therefore request your contribution to some of the pressing challenges we are experiencing, including malnutrition, early childhood development initiatives, and the identification of child-headed households.
We also acknowledge the reality that, because we live in a dynamic world, some of our veterans will require refresher training as they have been out of the profession quite some time. The Department of Social Development is committed to assisting in this regard.
In closing, I want to thank all of you who have responded to our call for help. I also commend the provincial departments and the social work veterans for having established their forums. The formalisation of these structures is important for the proper governance, functioning and sustainability of the entire system.
I want to encourage you to find more of your peers who have retired from the profession to join us in this initiative because we need all the help we can get.
For our part as the Department of Social Development, we will ensure that we include the costed activities pertaining to the engagement of veteran social workers in our planning. As agreed at the consultative workshop last year in November, the department will serve as a base from which the forums will operate. It is important to mention that the provincial forums should on a regular basis engage with their HODs and MECs in order that they are relevant and effectively respond to local needs.
I would like to make a humble plea to the social work veterans to take this work very seriously. Please do not allow this initiative to degenerate into a talk shop mired by politics that prevent it from delivering on its mandate. While we have to sit down and agree on approaches and tactics, let us also be mindful that social work is not about smart talk but about action that has a direct impact on the lives of our people.
Once again, I applaud your dedication and commitment in taking the decision to be active participants in making South Africa a better place for all. Your interventions will be a significant contribution towards the realisation of the socio-economic rights of the needy citizens of South Africa.
On that note, allow me to officially launch the “National Social Workers Veterans Forum”. Let the work begin!
Issued by: Department of Social Development
22 Oct 2012
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