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Social Workers

Social workers are the unsung heroes of our society. Their work is diverse, but a central principle to it all is a commitment to human rights and social justice. As Wikipedia puts it:

a professional and academic discipline that seeks to improve the quality of life and subjective well-being of individuals, groups and communities through research, policy, community organizing, direct practice, crises intervention, and teaching for the benefit of those affected by social disadvantages such as poverty, mental and physical illness or disability, and social injustice, including violations of their civil liberties and human rights … It is an interdisciplinary field that incorporates theoretical bases from economics, education, sociology, law, medicine, philosophy, politics, anthropology and psychology.

Unfortunately, workloads for social workers are ever-increasing – and so are vacancies.

The profession is governed in South Africa by the Social Service Professions Act 1978.1 It falls under the authority of the Minister of Social Development, but is administered on a-day-to-day basis by the South African Council for Social Service Professions.2 Its motto is Non Nobis – which, translated from Latin, means ‘not for ourselves’.

A. Professional boards and registration

The Minister promulgates regulations which establish different boards to oversee the various disciplines operating within the general framework of ‘social work’. So there is, for example, a board for child and youth care, for probation services, and for ‘social work’ itself.

  1. It is a crime to practise, in any manner whatsoever and for gain, the professions in respect of which these boards have been established unless:3
    • you are registered as a social worker; or
    • you are registered under the Act as someone practising another profession but in respect of which a professional board has been established.
  2. It is also a crime to give instruction at any training institution on any aspect, of any subject, in connection with a profession in respect of which a professional board has been established, unless:4
    • you are registered as a social worker; or
    • you are registered under the Act as someone practising another profession but in respect of which a professional board has been established; or
    • you are not permanently resident in the Republic, and your giving the instruction is with the approval of the professional board concerned.
  3. It is an offence to pretend to be a social worker, student social worker, social auxiliary worker, or a person practising another profession for which a professional board has been established, if you are not registered under the Act.5

B. Disciplinary hearings

The Council can appoint a disciplinary tribunal to hear and determine charges of unprofessional or improper conduct against any registered person. The tribunal has a wide variety of powers relative to such a hearing.

  1. It is an offence, for a person who has been subpoenaed, to give a false statement on any matter to the tribunal.6
  1. As amended; the latest amendment was effected by Act 102 of 1998. 

  2. The Head Office of the Council is at 37 Annie Botha Avenue, Riveria, Pretoria (tel: 012 356 8300). 

  3. Section 15(1)(a) read with section 16. 

  4. Section 15(1)(b) read with section 16. 

  5. Section 15(1)(c) read with section 16. 

  6. Section 21(8).