Social workers attacked and under severe strain in Cape Town townships

Western Cape will hire an extra 247 social workers for the coming financial year

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Xolisani Sibhozo, who is based in Khayelitsha, has been a social worker since 2012. He said he is concerned about the attacks he and his colleagues have experienced. Photos: Matthew Hirsch

  • The Western Cape Government says it is concerned over a rise in attacks on social workers when entering certain areas.
  • Emergency Medical Services vehicles have been attacked and staff have been hijacked.
  • An extra 247 social workers will be hired for the coming financial year.

The Western Cape Government says it is increasingly concerned over attacks on social workers as they try to go about their work. The matter was discussed at a Social Development Committee meeting in the provincial legislature on 17 March.

According to the department, there have also been numerous attacks on Emergency Medical Services’ (EMS) staff vehicles. Hotspots include Khayelitsha, Philippi, Nyanga, and Gugulethu.

The department says Law Enforcement Advancement Plan (LEAP) and South African Police Service (SAPS) officers “do help when they have resources”.

“At some point we won’t be able to conduct home visits because we are scared. We don’t feel safe,” says Xolisani Sibhozo, a social worker since 2012, based in Khayelitsha.

He was hijacked during a home visit in Makhaza. He says other colleagues have also been hijacked at gunpoint. His wife, a social worker based in Philippi, had to flee a situation when the police vehicle that was escorting them was attacked.

He said it is up to community members and structures, such as community police forums and street committees, to make the environment safe for them.

“We have community members that don’t understand why we are not visible in the communities. They believe we don’t want to work, overlooking the fact that we don’t go there as often as we’d like because we are worried about safety,” he said.

“We need to employ more youngsters because of the situation that we find ourselves in as a country. We are coming from a very dark past where our people were psychologically, financially, and emotionally hurt,” said Sibhozo.

He said more social auxiliary workers, who do admin and fill in reports, were needed.

Esther Lewis, spokesperson for the department, said that the 247 new social work posts would be distributed throughout the province where the needs are the greatest, particularly in the welfare and child protection system, and in hotspot areas.

“Social workers have always played an important role in society, and even more so in today’s climate,” she said. “We have seen the need for psychosocial support increase in the wake of the Covid pandemic.”

She said social workers have access to an Employee Health and Wellness programme to support them to deal with the daily challenges they face.

In her budget speech, delivered on 28 March, MEC of Social Development Sharna Fernandez announced that the department had received R207-million for the compensation of employees over the 2023 Medium-Term Expenditure Framework period. Of this, about R61-million is being allocated in 2023/24, over R69-million in 2024/25, and over R76-million for 2025/36.

“This funding will ensure the filling of priority posts within the department, including the appointment of social service professionals, which includes, social workers, social auxiliary workers at the coal face, and child and youth care workers at secure care centres,” she said.

“Increased pressure on our services, growing workload for our staff, limited resources to meet the needs of our communities while poverty and unemployment rates increase seem insurmountable,” said Fernandez.

TOPICS:  Society

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