Social Work International Social Work and Social Welfare in Southern Africa
Gina A. Chowa
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0237


International social work and social welfare in Southern Africa historically have been based on Western models of social work. However, a shift in theorizing and practice in social work and social welfare has occurred and has increasingly evolved to reflect the local social, economic, and political context in Southern Africa. Social work and social welfare in Southern Africa, as a result, focus on mechanisms that protect the vulnerable from livelihood risks, paying attention to enhancing the well-being of economically, socially, and politically marginalized populations. The social development approach has dominated social work practice in Southern Africa with social welfare services designed and delivered to protect individual rights and support the poor. However, because governments in Southern Africa in general have limited resources, there is heavy reliance on international donors to complement social welfare, and governments play a more limited role except in South Africa. This interplay of international donors and national governments has birthed a complex social work and social welfare practice and policy environment that spans several areas and could be deemed as interdisciplinary. However, this article will focus on social development, social protection, social policy, and social security to demonstrate how social work and social welfare operate within Southern Africa. Southern Africa is generally defined as the southernmost region of the African continent, comprising the countries of Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

General Overviews

General overviews of the field of international social work and social welfare, with a particular focus on Southern Africa, have been published over the years. These summaries include textbooks such as Osei-Hwedie 1995, which describes the challenges that once typified social work practice on the African continent; Patel 2005, a textbook for students on social welfare theory and practice in South Africa; Midgley and Conley 2010, which includes essays from a variety of practitioners discussing the intersection between social development and social work; and Devereux and Getu 2013, which describes informal and formal systems of social protection. These texts provide some of the seminal works on international social work and social welfare in Southern Africa.

  • Devereux, S., and M. Getu, eds. 2013. Informal and Formal Social Protection Systems in Sub-Saharan Africa. Kampala, Uganda: Fountain.

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    This volume of essays offers a historical perspective and critical insight into how social protection policies have developed at national levels and how culturally informed, local systems of support have coexisted with national policies aimed at providing safety nets for the poor. These essays are critical for understanding the lexicon of social protection specific to the region.

  • Midgley, J. 1995. Social Development: The Development Perspective in Social Welfare. London: SAGE.

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    Midgley’s work offers a comprehensive overview of the progression of social development as a concept. Midgley identifies three mediums of development strategies: the individual, the community, and the state. Midgley champions an “institutional perspective,” which calls for central government agencies to take leading roles in coordinating and integrating social development actions, with support from professionals at the local level and guided by economic development strategies.

  • Midgley, J., and A. Conley, eds. 2010. Social Work and Social Development: Theories and Skills for Developmental Social Work. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    This collection of essays presents a critical insight of how a social development framework shapes social work practice. Evidence is presented of how developmental social work can apply to working with families, children, and the elderly, as well as to the economically disaffected, politically displaced, and culturally marginalized.

  • Osei-Hwedie, K. 1995. A Search for Legitimate Social Development Education and Practice Models for Africa. Studies in African Economic and Social Development. Lewiston, NY: Mellen.

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    As a foundational text in African social work practice, this book articulates the challenges that once typified social work practice on the African continent. Osei-Hwedie’s ideas have helped shape the scope of the profession in Africa, and his work provides crucial context for understanding the issues that continue to animate the field and policies related to it.

  • Patel, L. 2005. Social Welfare and Social Development in South Africa. Cape Town: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    An important textbook for students seeking the fundamentals of social welfare theory and practice, especially in the South African context.

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