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Rethinking Social Work in Africa.

From left to right Dorothee Holscher, Secretary of ASASWEI; Dr Gidraph Wairere, President of ASSWA and Prof Adrian Van Breda, President of ASASWEI, both Co-Chairs of the conference; Dr Amohia Boulton; and Prof Vimla Nadkarni, Keynote Speaker.

 

An international social work conference in Johannesburg, South Africa recently resounded to the sounds of the korimako (bellbird), as Dr Amohia Boulton delivered a key note address entitled Decolonising Ethics: considerations of power, politics and privilege in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Referring to the metaphoric waiata “Hutia te rito”, Dr Boulton evoked the sounds and sense of a NZ forest for conference participants as she explored concepts such as whanaungatanga; awhi, tautoko, manaakitanga, kotahitanga, and rangatiratanga (amongst others) and the implications these concepts have for policy and law-making in New Zealand particularly as they relate to the care and protection of tamariki Māori.

The conference was jointly hosted by a range organisations representing practising social workers, policy makers, social work educators, academics and students alike. Whilst the bulk of participants hailed from South Africa, 18 other nations were also represented at the conference, from as far afield as Scotland and India, as well as many of the other African countries. The organisations who hosted the three-day conference included the Association of South African Social Work Education Institutions (ASASWEI); the Association of Schools of Social Work in Africa (ASSWSA); the National Association of Social Workers South Africa (NASWSA) and the Department of Social Development: South Africa (DSD).

In addition to providing a keynote address, Dr Boulton also participated in a panel discussion with two social work educators and academics, Dr Dorothee Holscher (University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban) and Prof Vivienne Bozalek (University of Western Cape, Capetown), extending the ideas from the keynote in a more intimate setting. The panel presentation workshopped the question

“Does a decolonised profession still need a code of ethics?” with the resounding conclusion of the participants being that social work and social workers needed to engage with the debate regarding decolonisation of the profession and what a decolonised profession might look like for South Africa.

Conference participants certainly found value in the perspectives Dr Boulton shared regarding Māori and colonisation, with many participants commenting that their thinking and future practice will be informed by the brief glimpse they have had into the experiences of another colonised people. Dr Boulton meanwhile also learnt much of South Africa’s history of colonisation, of Apartheid and of the complexity that characterises South African society and polity. Amohia noted the similarities which unite all indigenous peoples, but also the stark differences between the two countries given their distinct colonial history. Dr Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela’s legacy is still very much alive in South Africa as the country grapples with its post-colonial, post-apartheid identity.