Social Dialogue Magazine
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Tatenda.G. Nhapi Graduate, 2015 Erasmus Mundus Masters in Advanced Development Social Work, Erasmus Mundus MA Advanced Development in Social Work- a joint Programme between the University of Lincoln (England); Aalborg University (Denmark); Technical University of Lisbon (Portugal); University of Paris Ouest Nantere La Defense (France); Warsaw University (Poland).

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Jotham Dhemba Senior Lecturer, Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work, University of Eswatini

Navigating towards social work desired outcomes in resource constrained environment - Some Zimbabwean and Eswatini experiences

The article aims to give a situation analysis on the gaps and opportunities for a pro social developmental approach and sustainable development social work frontline practice in Eswatini and Zimbabwe. The article provides an overview of the current socio-economic trajectories that frontline Eswatini and Zimbabwean social workers operate in. Barriers for a broad spectrum of robust social work interventions are catalogued. This encompasses older persons’ social security interventions, sustainable development in context of extreme climatic events and poverty mitigation for youths. We conclude by offering pathways by which social work interventions can be enriched to be responsive and more pro poor despite pervasive resource constraints.


Despite an enabling policy environment, pervasive resource constraints in Eswatini and Zimbabwe have hampered holistic social work interventions desired outcomes. As will be shown later in this article state and non-state actors’ continuous investment in communities’ capacity building for bottom up social development interventions overcomes poverty.

Socio economic contexts


Zimbabwe’s protracted fiscal imbalances have constrained development expenditure and social service provision, undermining poverty reduction efforts. Unemployment pressures have mounted due to dwindle employment opportunities (African Development Bank, 2019). Furthermore, Zimbabwe experienced Cyclone Idai in eastern Zimbabwe on 15th March 2019. Strong winds and heavy rain totalling 200mm to 600mm (equivalent to 1–2 seasons) caused flash flooding across parts of the provinces of Manicaland, Mashonaland East and Masvingo, which are home to 44 % of the country’s population. At least 344 people have been recorded dead and at least 257 people are still missing, and about 60,000 people have been displaced by the Cyclone (Government of Zimbabwe, 2019).


Despite its lower middle-income country status, 63 percent of Swazis live below the national poverty line (United Nations Country Programme Eswatini, no date). Although there has been progress, Eswatini’s development challenges include slow economic growth; high inequality levels and poverty; high unemployment rates especially among youth. Moreover, United Nations Country Programme notes Eswatini has high communicable (HIV and TB) and non-communicable diseases: incidence and prevalence. This is in the face of health system constraints; high maternal mortality; high chronic malnutrition levels increased numbers of vulnerable households. Low women participation in decision-making; high incidence of violence, particularly gender based violence against children and women; high teenage pregnancy rates is further compound any social work related interventions. Again, United Nations Country Programme in Eswatini (no date) notes limited research and technical capacity for timely and quality data generation to inform the integration of risks and climate change adaptation capacity constrains pro-poor policies and strategies effective implementation, especially in education, health and agriculture.

Eswatini has a very high HIV prevalence affecting 26 percent of the population between the ages of 15-49 (World Food Programme Eswatini country programme, 2018). Life expectancy is 49 years, and 45 percent of children are orphaned or vulnerable with chronic malnutrition being a concern. Stunting affects 26 percent of children under the age of five. Eswatini is vulnerable to drought in the south east. An estimated 77 percent of Swazis rely on subsistence farming for their livelihoods (World Food Programme Eswatini country programme, 2018).

Scope and dynamics of frontline social work

The following section of the article examines current trends in the social work training and practice trajectory in Zimbabwe and Eswatini. Zimbabwe faces a dire social worker shortage putting the country’s vulnerable children and the aged population at risk. The National Association of Social Workers in Zimbabwe (NASW-Z) reported 945 social workers as registered with Council of Social Workers (CSW) (Makaripe, 2016). Of these, according to Makaripe only about 530 have been renewing their licences yearly, suggesting the remainder may have left the country or changed professions. The number is too small for a population of some 13 million people and vulnerable children are the most likely group severely affected by the shortage. The social worker to children ratio is at about 1: 14 000, according to sector workers. In South Africa, the ratio is at 1:250, while in Botswana, it is at 1:1 867. The social worker to children ratio in Namibia is at 1:4 300 (Makaripe, 2016). In terms of frontline professionals principally implementing Zimbabwe’s child protection agenda, deep-seated capacity weaknesses throughout the Department of Social Services (DSS) undermining effective social work interventions. In 2010 Wyatt, Mupedziswa and Rayment (2010) conducted an assessment of DSS and noted that it is extremely under-resourced to meet the challenges it faces, in terms of the number of vacancies among professional front- line staff, the professional qualifications and experience of many of the staff who are in post, and the physical facilities and resources at their disposal (Wyatt, Mupedziswa , & Rayment, 2010). Furthermore, salary levels do not permit sufficient recruitment of qualified staff recruitment and retention for effective discharge of core functions, and NGOs and other public agencies dependence undermines its monitoring and supervisory responsibilities (Wyatt, Mupedziswa , & Rayment, 2010).Again, discontinuation of a previous arrangement to support national Secretariat National Action Plan for Orphans and Vulnerable Children(NAP for OVC) implementation efforts was made by UNICEF . UNICEF deemed considerable capacity had been built within Department of Social Services (DSS).DSS is predominant social workers employer in Zimbabwe However, in 2018, the DSS suffered consistent staff attrition, with large numbers of previously trained and experienced staff moving mainly to the United Kingdom and Australia (UNICEF, 2018).

Resource constraints impacts

In the following section of the article we enumerate different social work practice domains whose effectiveness is impacted by resource constraints.

Robust child protection gaps

Zimbabwe has an enabling legislative and child protection policy framework but it is hampered a critical mass of resources unless if grounded in support like UNICEF Zimbabwe country programme interventions. A study by Muridzo, Chikadzi, & Kaseke, (2018) examined challenges faced by role players including social workers working with child sexual abuse survivors within Zimbabwe’s Victim- Friendly System illumines the above observation. The Victim Friendly System represents a confluence of multi-sectorial professional interventions targeting child sexual abuse survivors in Zimbabwe. Professionals involved include social workers, medical doctors, nurses, police, magistrates and prosecutors, counsellors, educationists and psychologists. This qualitative study findings highlighted that by working in a shrinking economy a plethora of challenges to professionals’ as social workers effective discharge of the child protection agenda includes staff and skills shortages, lack of financial and material resources, poor access to proper infrastructure and other logistical constrains.

Social work and confronting environmental degradation

Given its geographical position and vulnerability due to limited adaptive capacity exacerbated by widespread poverty no continent will be severely struck by climate change impacts as Africa (UN Environment, 2018). ‘Person in environment’ is the guiding framework used in social work practice, but its meaning has tended to include only the social, political, and economic environments, and sometimes the housing and built environment, but has generally ignored connectivity with the physical environment (International Association for Schools of Social Work (IASSW), 2016): “The Africa We Want”, a remarkable plan of action to consolidate and position Africa’s priorities and concerns in the SDGs, underscores the interconnectivity between people, the planet and the economy as it aims for prosperity and well- being, for unity and integration, with freedom from conflict and improved human security. The Agenda 2063 is aspirational in outlook, requires country-specific actions some of which are hinged on biodiversity, encouraging their integration and mainstreaming into core policy areas (Flora and Fauna) Mainstreaming of Climate Change Adaptation in social workers led community development interventions is pivotal. For changing climate adaptation with droughts and extreme rainfall events becoming more frequent in the future, social workers’ repertoire of skills to creatively engage communities through approaches as group work is essential. The community needs to both flood proof their irrigation scheme and protect the larger catchment area from environmental degradation and soil erosion. Replanting the forests, grasslands regeneration and taking up sustainable agriculture practices enhances water infiltration into the soil and reduce erosion and siltation (UNDP Zimbabwe country programme, 2019).

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‘Women making a difference’ - by Wallace Mawire, Zimbabwe from pixabay

Persons with Disabilities (PWDs)

From a developmental social work perspective it is laudable that in year 2017 Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) set aside $5 million to lend to physically challenged persons as part of empowerment funds under RBZ’s five-year National Financial Inclusion Strategy. The money will be given as loans to support projects by People Living with Disabilities (PWD) through various banks (Mananavire, 2017). Given Zimbabwe’s socio-economic turbulence, social workers steered participatory action research initiation is critical to establish efficacy of these funds to PWDs.

Pathways for enriched social work practice

The foregoing explored different frontline social work domains influenced by resources availability. The next sections offers strategies for robust frontline social work to mitigate resource constraints.

Social work theory and fieldwork enrichment

Major challenges for social work globally have been created by globalisation of neoliberalism in a postcolonial world order in terms of uneven developments and increasing inequalities, making social work education reformation necessary (Jönsson & Flem, 2018).Social work is an international profession and similarly social work education internationally has always embraced both academic and practical components (Dhemba, 2012) .There seems to be a lack of interest on fieldwork issues among social work scholars, which partly explains the paucity of literature on the subject. A taught component on fieldwork would contribute towards generating research interest on fieldwork issues among social work scholars (Dhemba, 2012). Critical and global perspectives informing international field training in the Global South can create unique opportunities to prepare students in challenging the dominant social forces and power relations behind the reproduction of inequalities (Jönsson & Flem, 2018).

Advocacy for pro poor budgeting

Social protection remains a vital part of poverty reduction and marginalised groups in society tend to be less covered by social protection programmes than those enjoying social and economic advantage (Mtetwa, 2018).According to UNICEF, in the 2017 Zimbabwe national budget, support to PWDs was allocated US$800,000. However, with an estimated 900,000 people living with disability, this would translate to US88 cents per person for the whole of 2017 (UNICEF Zimbabwe Programme, 2018).

Knowledge management

Robust knowledge management in social work is critical. In navigating to choices and decisions, institutionally embedded procedures, protocols, methods and techniques influence practices and what is considered taken-for-granted knowledge (Scoones, 2019). Questionnaires, case studies, empiricism, philosophy and interviews are research techniques that have reached redundancy. Currently, alongside discourse analysis, phenomenology, critical theory, cooperative enquiry, grounded theory, appreciative inquiry and critical rationalism participation action research is being prominently used in research (Mbigi, 2014). Mbigi(ibid) calls on social workers to seek new and innovative ideas to solve social ills.


The article has shown dynamics of social work practice in resource constrained contexts. However, this should not deter the social work raison de etre of enhancing social functioning of Zimbabwean and Eswatini service users transforming them into empowered communities.


African Development Bank. ( 2019). African Economic Outlook. Abijan: African Development Bank Group.
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International Association for Schools of Social Work (IASSW). (2016, August). Global Agenda for Social Work and Social Development IASSW Statement Theme 3: Promoting environmental and community sustainability. Retrieved March 1, 2018, from iassw-iets Jönsson, J. H., & Flem, A. L. (2018). International field training in social work education: beyond colonial divides. Social Work Education The International Journal, 1-16.
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Wyatt, A., Mupedziswa , R., & Rayment, C. (2010). Institutional capacity assessment Department of Social Services. Harare: Ministry of Labour and Social Services.