I write this letter as a young social worker who is faced with the day to day struggles of being in this profession.
As a young woman who lost her mother at the tender age of 12, I always believed that I wanted to empower those who had the same childhood experience and those who had no support structure at all. With all the childhood challenges I told myself that I would make a difference in life and I would ensure that I turn my life into a success story.
There I was, at university and hoping to be the first in my family to acquire a degree. I wanted to learn how to be a pillar of strength for all those who have no one.
I was determined to make social work my centre of gravity and truth be told all the university professors, lecturers and doctors told us the same thing: If you want to be a social worker you should have a true passion for the work as it is not for the faint hearted and it requires a lot from you mentally and emotionally. My one lecturer told me about compartmentalisation as a skill of social work and I did not know what it meant up until I started practicing as a qualified social worker.
After I graduated I did not get placed in the department and found myself working for a NGO. I have heard stories of how some NGO’s (not all of them) ill-treat social service professionals but because I had a 6 month old daughter and was in dire need of a job, I found myself working for a mere R8000 a month before deductions. This was good enough for the day to day expenses but it was not enough to support the family of 14 that raised me to be the woman that I was.
At the beginning of 2013, we got a call from the department that they were ready to place social workers. We were excited as this meant no more poverty, or so we thought. R12 000 per month would have been enough to make anyone happy, especially if they had no responsibilities and no one waiting to be fed and clothed.
Fast forward four years and that salary has increased to R15 000. Half of social service professionals have more than 10 people to support on this salary; they have to pay school fees, pay home loans and still manage to invest and save for future generations.
Minister, every person has their day-to-day challenges and this was not to bore you about my past and where I am at this point in time. Rather, it is to inform you about our line of duty as social service professions and how disrespected we feel each and every time we collect our pay cheques and it does not match the work we do each and every month.
In our line of work minister, we wake up every day to empower the most vulnerable and needy in our community. We care for the old, the young, the orphans, the families; the offenders, the women and the most vulnerable in our societies.
Minister Dlamini, we remove children from abusive homes and ensure that we heal the souls of these children and enable them to have courage to conquer the world.
We counsel our clients to assist them to identify their problems and explore strategies to help them deal effectively with problems.
Social workers take on the role of being mediators as they intervene in disputes and assist parties to find a compromise and to reach a mutually satisfying agreement. We educate our society about their rights and responsibilities and offer programs that assist families to link grants to socio-economic emancipation.
Social workers advocate for the rights of those disempowered by society. We are the voice of the voiceless when others won’t listen to them. Social workers are brokers for the community by identifying the needs of clients, locating service providers and linking our clients with resources needed in a timely manner.
Social service professions stay with our grandmothers at old age homes and look after them with love and care. We come to work every day, go to court to defend our young who are in conflict with the law and offer diversion programmes so that they do not reoffend. We remove the old from dire circumstances and offer places of safety for the abused across the country.
Despite all of these great qualities and services that we deliver we are also subjected to depression and anxiety due to financial stress. We are admitted day and night to hospitals for mental distress due to the inability to find balance and to afford basic day to day living.
With all details listed above Minister Bathabile, as a social worker who played her role in empowering people while you were still practicing, I find it hard to believe that you would subject fellow social workers to the injustice of low income and high caseloads as is the case at this present moment.
I am a social worker with an Honours degree and according to my qualification, I have an NQF 8 but earn a salary that is at salary scale 7. As a social worker, I earn as much income as a personal assistant in all departments. I earn the same salary as sales consultants in the country and at times know they earn a better wage as they get commission.
As a social worker healing the nation I am unable to afford a house and a car and still manage to take care of my family.
This is a plea from a social worker to please reconsider all these hide and seek games and listen to our cries. We have been patiently waiting for a proper response regarding our demands but there has been none to date.
We are the first line of assistance for any national crisis and we are always ready to heal and help, but our families are suffering because of our passion and career path. Thus we ask you not to make us barbaric and make us abandon our posts and go on another strike just because our pleas are falling on deaf ears. As it stands there are fewer registered social workers and social auxiliary workers and South Africa’s population has increased to over 55 million people.
My name is Nokuthula Dlamini, I am a proud social worker who would love to serve her country. I am unwilling to look for greener pastures in Europe and I believe that South Africa has room for growth and development and that my professional services are needed in my country.
I have a plea to all those listed above to hear our cries and see to it that they stop disrespecting my profession. The social work profession is important and has a great role to play in empowering all citizens to be self-reliant and economically active.