Repair the fabric of society

30 April 2014 | Story Helen Swingler. Photos Raymond Botha.
Professional declaration ceremony.
Professional declaration ceremony.

Every year, second-year social development students about to embark on fieldwork take a pledge - to be ethical, principled and responsible. At their April 2014 commitment, students heard more about the work that lies ahead, and what it requires of them. In one word: resilience.

"We are a troubled society and our social fabric is damaged; it's in great need of repair," Dean of Humanities Professor Sakhela Buhlungu said at the Department of Social Development's professional declaration ceremony for second-year students - a red-letter event in which the students commit to ethical practices, principles, and responsibilities in their work.

"[Social work is] about building an ethical consciousness in society. It's the beginning of restoring order. So to me it's a great privilege to hear students [repeating the pledge] publicly – A profession like this is about public service and selflessness."

Buhlungu lauded the department for its leadership and teaching, and for the calibre of its qualification and academics, thanking head of department Associate Professor Viviene Taylor. Taylor serves as an advisor to the National Planning Commission, and chaired an inquiry into a comprehensive social security system for South Africa and the introduction of the basic income grant.

Punctuated by musical and poetry offerings by students Anthea Appel and Pam Dhlamini, this year's pledge emphasised the role of social work and social workers in advancing social justice and human rights.

It also marked the transition of 50 second-year social work students from a sole focus on studies, to a dual focus on theoretical and practice-based learning.

"For the rest of their four-year Bachelor of Social Work degree, students spend an increasing number of hours per week in the field, placed at a range of organisations, supervised both on campus and in the practice setting," said Dr Margaret Booyens.

"[This rite of passage] serves to open the eyes of guests to the profession in general and to the requirements of those entering the social work profession, deepening their respect for the programme and the profession. Resilience is a key word. The fieldwork takes the student into a world of inequality, poverty, unemployment and many related social problems, ranging from domestic violence, substance abuse and child neglect, to under-resourced communities and the reality of drug cartels and gangsterism."

The structure of the social development degree - and ceremonies such as the pledge - help students feel "supported in their need to develop resilience to face and work in such circumstances", explained Booyens.

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