iassw logoSocial Dialogue #17

Tatenda Manomano, Department of Social Work,University of the Free State

Rumbidzai Nyanhoto, Social Work & Social Development, University of Fort Hare

Radical transformation and its likely impact on the racial population groups of South Africa


This paper, endeavours to discuss the populist notion of radical transformation and its implications for the majority of citizens of South Africa. Among its central tenets is the conflict of interest between the objectives of radical transformation and what has been termed monopoly capital. It also considers the paradoxes which are inherent in institutions of governance and the ongoing debate concerning decolonisation. The authors endeavour to probe the dichotomy between the use which is made of the plight of the poor for political gain and the apparent lack of political will to take meaningful steps to alleviate it. It concludes with a discussion of whether the social work profession should also undergo radical transformation.


In their discussion of transformation to an equitable socio-economic dispensation, Mangaliso and Mangaliso (2013) suggest that the dream to abolish apartheid would bring prosperity to the majority of South Africans has proven to be an elusive one. The economic power still remains concentrated in the same hands in which it was concentrated before 1994. In addition, the levels of unemployment are growing progressively higher, while those of poverty are worsening, particularly for the poor black majority.

Malikane (2017) defines radical transformation as the product of the output which is produced by the economy of a country and existing patterns of ownership and control. The questions which could be generated by this assessment concern those who own the entities; whose who production makes the most significant contributions to the economy; those who manages them and those who make decisions about investment patterns, employment patterns and rates of pay in the labour market. Maserumule (2012) maintains that South Africa is in the midst of a battle between defining a developmental state and a democratic one, while the latter goal seems to be the one to which the African National Congress (ANC) government is giving most of its attention, although it outwardly purports to be committed to the emergence of a developmental state. The authors of this short article maintain that radical transformation is required in South Africa, in order to achieve a state which is inclusive, democratic, universal and fair- as the only means by which social justice is likely to be achieved in South Africa should therefore become a moral imperative.

White monopoly capital and paradoxes in institutions of governance

Southall (2017) maintains that while some would query the integrity of the term 'White Monopoly Capital' (WMC), its introduction to South Africa's contemporary discourse is healthy for politics. This is because it points out that the inequalities in terms of wealth, income and opportunity are not only extreme but highly racialized. The White minority continue to dominate the most productive parts of the country. Southall (20170 argues that the White minority and their privilege and status is behind the anger and frustration felt by most polarized black people. This is a frustration that any form of politics can take advantage of and manipulate at the expense of the needy and vulnerable.

Southall (2017) maintains that while policies targeting equal opportunity and preference to blacks are necessary, it however needs attention on addressing rampant corruption, promotion of transparency and accountability. For example, the Treasury of the country has been flagged for unaccountable millions. The South African Police Service (SAPS) is also struggling to secure a Police Commissioner for years now as the appointed ones end up trapped in criminal cases associated with alleged wrong doing. Institutions of governance are failing to effectively implement social services while their purpose is understood, unfortunately reality shows something else. Another branch of monopoly if one could call it that concerns the alleged state capture by the Gupta family. While social work does not concern itself with allegations, a key question arises if the state capture (whether real or not) will replaces white monopoly capital, meaning that one corrupt practice is replaced by another. Based on the ideal of real transformation and social development, the best capital is inclusive and people centred. Monyai (2011) points out that the paradox of current social policy initiatives it is still the marginalized who are still excluded by the apartheid regime even though social policy and programmes are claiming to be targeting them.

The ongoing debate concerning decolonisation

The debate concerning decolonisation has swept through many of the corridors of learning in South Africa, particularly those in the domain of higher education. As there is a great deal of confusion concerning how the concept should be understood and interpreted, there is also a possibility of overlooking the 'Other' (Sewpaul, 2016). As a consequence, endeavours to decolonise can arouse intense emotions and be perceived as destructive if they are not carried out within professional and humane parameters. Essop (2016) points out that the decolonisation debate raises concerns with respect to the relationship between power, knowledge and learning. However, there are two categories of dangers which are inherent in most decolonising enterprises. The first concerns the tendency to prompt racial essentialism, in accordance with which white is replaced by black or Freud by Fanon. The second concerns manifestations of social conservatism, which pit modernity against tradition. These dangers can be avoided through an acknowledgement and an acceptance of epistemological diversity. Broadbent (2017) explains that it would require a great deal of thorough critical scrutiny to decolonise knowledge in a meaningful sense. Critical decolonisation entails accepting the possibility of error and also considering whether indigenous knowledge systems may contain certain truths which have been inaccessible to western science. However, it could also entail accepting that indigenous knowledge systems may be flawed or wrong.

The plight of the poor as a focus for political rhetoric and not for actual attention

In his discussion of the dilemma which is presented by widespread grinding poverty in Africa, Hope (2004: 127) explains that the poor are afflicted by a lack of purchasing power, a predominantly rural culture, exposure to risk, insufficient access to social and economic services and few opportunities for generating incomes in the formal sector. However, it is abundantly evident that the plight of the poor becomes an abstract political concern in the messages of political parties, while their actual concerns are far from those of the people on whose behalf they purport to speak from their political platforms. A great many people have been given cause to wonder how politicians are able to continue to deceive large swathes of the populations of countries such as South Africa, while doing very little which effectively alleviates their shared plight. A cynical response to the question may suggest that politicians of all ostensible political persuasions feel no compassion at all for the poor and simply exploit their plight to garner votes for their parties.

Should social work undergo radical transformation?

In the light of the potential implications of radical transformation for the different population groups of South Africa, should the profession of social work undergo radical transformation? In its professed desire to become a developmental state, the government of South Africa after 1994 moved from a social welfare approach to a social development one, which is defined by Midgely, (2013:13) as "a process of planned social change designed to promote the well-being of the population as a whole, within the context of a dynamic multifaceted development process".

The adoption of the approach entailed increased amounts of state funds being invested in social grants as a means overcoming poverty. Although social grants provide assistance to the poor, their actual value has frequently been questioned, mainly in terms of their sustainability, for both their intended beneficiaries and also for the state. This year, for reasons which have yet to be properly identified or resolved, the state was unable to pay out social grants to those who were eligible to receive them. It is from this perspective that Maserumule (2012) maintains that there will always be endless conflict concerning the form which the nation will take in the future. The uncertainty which was experienced by the beneficiaries of social grants would inevitably have sent shock waves through their perceptions of the sustainability of the measures which the government has taken as an expression of its commitment to providing a better life for all.

In the light of the enormous numbers of South Africans who receive social grants, it could be asserted that the pressure to provide state funds across the sector has proved to be detrimental to the implementation of other developmental social services and also to the social work profession. An example could be provided by the present state of NGOs in South Africa, whose funding the government saw fit to drastically cut this year, which resulted in some retrenching many social workers and many services closing down. It could be speculated that the funding of NGOs had been cut as a result of the financial burden becoming too great for the state to carry. It is in this context that Penderis (2012) asserts that the financial burden of social security keeps increasing, to the detriment of other developmental social services. The effects which are felt by the social work profession are, in turn, felt equally acutely by the poorest population groups, which are left with very limited access to free social services as a direct consequence.

In the light of the present predicament of the social work profession, it could be maintained that if its main thrust were to be transformed to embody the objectives of critical social work, the social benefits for the disadvantaged populations of South Africa could be maximised. There is a great need for social workers to understand the position of the oppressed in the context of the social and economic structure in which they live (Payne, 2015). Vishanthie (2013) maintains that neo-liberalism has affected small-scale community-based initiatives adversely, leaving them without authority to challenge the power of corporate capital, centralised governments and big financial institutions. It is for this reason that Payne (2015) emphasises that social work practitioners should use critical social work to practise in ways which promote social change, rather than confining all their efforts and activities to problem solving and empowerment. Critical social work strives to achieve social justice and to challenge oppressive systems in societies. It also encompasses an understanding that in its endeavour to remedy the plight of the marginalised, radical transformation also has the potential to create other groups of marginalised people.


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