Social workers are social justice activists for the most vulnerable

Social workers often touch lives where it matters the most as well as help the destitute, the frail, children, the aged, victims of violence and abuse. /Alet Pretorius/Gallo Images
Social workers often touch lives where it matters the most as well as help the destitute, the frail, children, the aged, victims of violence and abuse. /Alet Pretorius/Gallo Images

Human dignity is the most basic and non-negotiable human right.

For the poor and vulnerable, the destitute, the frail, children, the aged, victims of violence and abuse, people affected by substance and drug abuse and people living with disabilities, this basic right is often accessed through others such as parents, caregivers, and significantly, social workers.

On March 20 2018 we joined the world in celebrating International Day of Social Workers in Thaba-Tshwane, Pretoria. The theme this year was the "Promotion of Sustainable Communities and Environment", the third pillar of the UN global agenda for social work and social development.

Various social workers unpacked the profession's contributions in the aftermath of environmental degradation that includes climate change resulting in droughts, floods, fires, and displacement of people. They also engaged on gaps in the theory and practice in the new field of eco-social work, green social work. Further engagements will take place to finalise a programme of action.

On Wednesday, March 21 2018, the nation commemorated Human Rights Day in Sharpeville, Sedibeng.

We asked the world to spare a thought for those whose work is often traumatic. However, they are prepared to soldier on. To borrow from the famous Cayla Mills phrase: "You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have."

Our professionals often touch lives when it matters the most. They are parents to abandoned infants. They comfort heartbroken victims and families when faced by heinous crimes like rape, femicide, body parts' harvesting, and human trafficking. They break the news where remains of loved ones are beyond recognition or faced with prospects of not finding closure where a body may never found. They console the inconsolable.

At the Gauteng department of social development (GDSD), each year we touch the lives of more than four million residents of the 12.7 million people who call Gauteng their home. We salute our social workers who work tirelessly to protect the rights of people with disability, including albinism and mental disability, the elderly, our children, women and men who experience violence.

Our social workers often work in difficult and sometimes dangerous circumstances. They do their best to help the most vulnerable in society. As the employer, I have urged the GDSD to ensure continued support for the national Department of Social Development to address the social workers' call for a danger allowance. To address acute capacity shortages, we are working hard to ensure absorption of social work bursary holders and address the shortage of supervisors.

It is pleasing to hear that their hard work is recognised. We were awarded the best run department in the country at the recent 5th Batho Pele Excellence Awards hosted by the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA). Former HOD Shoki Tshabalala won the award as the best head of department. Even Honourable Member Refiloe Ntsheke of the DA could not help but commend the good work done by the department during the March sitting of the social development portfolio committee.

The work of social workers goes beyond a career. These are social justice activists. It is for this reason that we take time to also reflect on the sacrifices made by those who contributed immensely in us attaining freedom and human rights, including the Struggle icon Mama Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who was also a social worker. We strive to emulate her by committing to build a united, democratic, nonracial, nonsexist and prosperous society; where all citizens enjoy equal human rights.

We take collective joy in the knowledge that our nation is united against all forms of discrimination, that it protects and promotes the rights of others regardless of their sexual orientation, race, gender and creed. We remain committed to serve our people with the values of human dignity, respect, integrity, fairness and equality.

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