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Social work and the family


I GREW up in a very large family consisting of four “mothers” and 16 children, 10 boys and six girls.

guest column: MUTSA MURENJE

The four “mothers” were all my father’s wives and the 16 children, his offspring.

I am the youngest of my father’s sons and also the last in a family of five.

I am not privy to the circumstances that might have led my father to having such a large family, but it is hardly surprising given the time in which he lived.

Nowadays, having many wives isn’t something that one can be proud of, especially considering the cost of living.

One needs to be frugal in the use of meagre financial resources. There are those, of course, who are bound to ignore this advice and they, in most cases, find themselves in traps they could have easily avoided.

The institution of the family is paramount and remains the fundamental group unit of society that must be protected by both society and the State.

This is my viewpoint, as someone, who values the role of the family in society. It is also significant that I state, here and now, that I am a social worker.

The prime reason for this revelation, which appears from the outset, is to challenge an attack on social workers and activists by one columnist, Kilton Moyo.

In his What is the atmosphere like in your family?, Moyo claimed that the foundational purpose of the family had been sabotaged and substituted by schools and governments.

He further claimed that governments and schools had no role to play in so far as disciplining children was concerned. For him, this is a role reserved for families.

Moyo believes that the shame that has befallen the family is that parents expect the government to discipline their children, and he claims that the devil delights in this because “he has come up with a lot of stupid theories perpetuated now by many social workers and activists encouraging the weakness of the family instead of restoring the foundations”.

Moyo is said to be a pastor and counsellor and I just wonder how he deals with matters as important as the family if he is ignorant about the role of the social work profession.

It is also quite dangerous for a man with acres of space in a newspaper to be propagating lies about a profession that he knows nothing about.

I speak for social workers around the whole world. Social workers, whose role continues to be beneficial and not destructive to society.

Social workers have been produced by families and also by the different environments in which they grew up.

As such, socialisation is not a process restricted to either the nuclear or extended family. The community at large has a role to play.

For instance, Zimbabwe has a six-tier programme that deals with orphans and vulnerable children.

As social workers, we believe that the nuclear family has the responsibility to look after its children and if such a family does not exist, then the extended family has to take over.

In some cases, there are no nuclear or extended families and the community is expected to intervene.

If the community cannot help the child(ren) concerned, then foster care and adoption are considered, and if these fail and as a last resort, institutionalisation will be considered.

Even in institutions, a family environment is created for the children because we understand the importance of the family in society.

We have SOS Children’s Villages in Zimbabwe and this is something that can be verified.

The people working with such children and families are social workers, although it has to be noted that social workers work in multi-disciplinary teams.

They don’t have knowledge of everything and so work with psychologists, anthropologists, lawyers, teachers, pastors, doctors, nurses, and the government.

The government and school officials also come from families and their role should be complementary to that of the family in terms of disciplining children.

I studied about marriage and the family in both sociology and social anthropology. This was part of my social work training.

I am, therefore, responding to an issue that I feel so strongly about. Besides, I am a father and a husband inasmuch as I am a social worker.

I am a Christian too. I have also worked as a children and family social worker in both Zimbabwe and South Africa.

As a member of the World Youth Alliance (Africa), I learnt about the family being a school of deeper humanity, within which each of us learns what it means to be a human person.

It cannot be overemphasised that it is within the family that we are all taught to be responsible, to commit, to share, and to love.

The family sustains society and it gives life to the next generation.

One privilege that it has is to form free and responsible citizens, thus ensuring democracy.

As the fundamental group unit of society, the family ensures the sustainability of civilisation and culture.

It takes on essential tasks in the care of all and especially the weakest and most vulnerable.

I am, therefore, failing to understand the stupid theories that we perpetuate as social workers to undermine and decimate the beautiful institution of the family.

This is a matter that Moyo needs to respond to.

We do not expect people who aren’t social workers to speak on matters they have no knowledge of.

As for us, as United States social worker, Ashley Huie (LMSW) observed, we are known for speaking out against some really big systematic, oppressive issues that need to be corrected and restructured for justice to prevail.

We also speak out for those who have been silenced by pain, shame, and stigma that society buries them under.

Above all else, we understand the beauty that is being human, that is being humane.

In conclusion, social work is a helping profession and not one that destroys. It focuses on human dignity and worth, social justice, service to humanity, integrity and competence.

As an advocate of these essential values, I chose to defend my profession.

May God help us! The struggle continues unabated!

Mutsa Murenje is a social activist

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