Structural Inequalities in Namibia and South Africa: A Critical Social Work Perspective




structural inequalities, critical social work, developmental social work, social justice, Namibia, South Africa


Namibia and South Africa share land and maritime borders and the interrelated structural challenges of poverty and socio-economic inequalities amidst progressive economic growth that are rooted in their apartheid past and contemporary economic development trajectories. Such inequalities are defined along racial, class, gender and other social locations that either grant privilege, power and access to socio-economic opportunities or result in marginalisation, oppression and resource deprivation. The rationale for this article is linked to the historic call for social work to intensify efforts in promoting social and economic equality. Despite Namibia and South Africa’s geographical proximity and their intertwined histories, there is a dearth of social work studies that offer a comparative critical social work perspective on structural inequalities in these former apartheid strongholds. While social work should actively engage in contesting the structural contradictions of poverty and inequalities amidst abundant resources, the reality is often that of the uncritical acceptance of existing socio-political inequalities, such that the profession’s enunciated commitment to social justice becomes perimetric. Thus, the article argues for the inclusion of critical social work approaches in social work education and practice against a backdrop of ideological divides, political trends and contextual factors that limit social workers’ critical and structural level engagement.


Metrics Loading ...


Alston, M. 2013. “Environmental Social Work: Accounting for Gender in Climate Disasters.” Australian Social Work 66 (2): 218–33. DOI:

Ananias, J., and E. Lightfoot. 2012. “Promoting Social Development: Building a Professional Social Work Association in Namibia.” Journal of Community Practice 20 (12): 196–210. DOI:

Blakemore, K., and E. Griggs. 2007. Social Policy: An Introduction. London: Open University Press.

Bozalek, V., and D. Hölscher. 2022. “From Imperialism to Radical Hospitality: Propositions for Reconfiguring Social Work towards a Justice-to-Come.” Southern African Journal of Social Work and Social Development 34 (1): 1–17. DOI:

Brandt, E. 2022. “Universal Access to Electricity Remains a Daunting Task … as 70% to 80% of Rural Households Still in the Dark.” New Era. Accessed August 8, 2022.

Briskman, L., B. Pease, and J. Allan. 2020. “Introducing Critical Theories for Social Work in a Neo-Liberal Context.” In Critical Social Work: Theories and Practices for a Socially Just World, edited by J. Allan, L. Briskman and B. Pease, 3–14. London: Taylor and Francis. DOI:

Chiwara, P. 2019. “Environmental and Community Sustainability for Informal Settlement Communities in Namibia and South Africa: A Comparative Social Work Study.” PhD diss., University of Pretoria.

Chiwara, P., and A. Lombard. 2017. “The Challenge to Promote Social and Economic Equality in Namibia through Social Work.” Social Work/Maatskaplike Werk 53 (4): 562–578. DOI:

Chiwara, P., and A. Lombard. 2022. “Socio-Economic Inequalities in Namibia: A Qualitative Social Work Study.” Southern African Journal of Social Work and Social Development 34 (3): 1–19. DOI:

Coetzee, J. 2021. “An Analysis of the Depth of Corruption in Namibia’s Political System, with Reference to the Fishing Industry Scandal Known as ‘Fishrot’.” Journal of Namibian Studies 30 (2021): 131–152.

Cox, D., and M. Pawar. 2013. International Social Work. Issues, Strategies, and Programs. Los Angeles: Sage. DOI:

David, M. 2021. “Namibia Facing Social Worker Shortage Crisis.” Informanté, September 1, 2021.

Dominelli, L. 2014. “Environmental Justice at the Heart of Social Work Practice: Greening the Profession.” In Environmental Change and Sustainable Social Development, edited by S. Hessle, 133–146. Surrey: Ashgate.

DuBois, B., and K. K. Miley. 2019. Social Work: An Empowering Profession. Boston: Pearson.

Francis, D., and E. Webster. 2019. “Poverty and Inequality in South Africa: Critical Reflections.” Development Southern Africa 36 (6): 788–802. DOI:

Gray, M. 2006. “The Progress of Social Development in South Africa.” International Journal of Social Welfare 15 (Supp): S53–S64. DOI:

Gray, M., and S. A. Webb. 2014. “The Making of a Civil Society Politics in Social Work: Myth and Misrepresentation with the Global Agenda.” International Social Work 57 (4): 346–359. DOI:

Harms Smith, L. 2015. “‘Blaming-the-Poor’: Strengths and Development Discourses Which Obfuscate Neo-Liberal and Individualist Ideologies.” International Social Work 60 (2): 1–15. DOI:

Hartwig, A. 2023. “Evaluating the Cost of Anti-Corruption in Political and Economic Terms: A Case Study Approach.” Journal of Financial Crime 30 (6): 1584–1594. DOI:

Healy, K. 2012. “Critical Perspectives.” In The Sage Handbook of Social Work, edited by M. Gray, J. Midgley and S. A. Webb, 191–206. London: Sage. DOI:

Hochfeld, T., and S. Plagerson. 2017. “Micro Analysis of Social Justice and the Child Support Grant.” In Development, Social Policy, and Community Action, edited by L. Patel and M. S. Ulriksen, 45–60. Cape Town: HSRC Press.

Hölscher, D. 2008. “The Emperor’s New Clothes: South Africa’s Attempted Transition to Developmental Social Welfare and Social Work.” International Journal of Social Welfare 17 (2): 114–123. DOI:

HPCNA (Health Professions Council of Namibia). 2022. “HPCNA Annual Report 2021-2022.” Accessed May 12, 2023.

IFSW (International Federation of Social Workers), IASSW (International Association of Schools of Social Work), and ICSW (International Council on Social Welfare). 2012. “Global Agenda for Social Work and Social Development: Commitment to Action.” Accessed August 12, 2023.

IFSW (International Federation of Social Workers), IASSW International Association of Schools of Social Work, and ICSW (International Council on Social Welfare). 2020. “2020 to 2030 Global Agenda for Social Work and Social Development Framework: Co-Building Inclusive Social Transformation.” Accessed August 17, 2023.

Iikela, S. 2021. “Adopting Socialism Was a Mistake – Geingob.” The Namibian. Accessed September 7, 2023.

ILO (International Labour Organization). 2012. “R202 Social Protection Floors Recommendation, 2012 (No. 202).” Accessed September 5, 2023.

Kamwanyah, N. J., R. J. Freeman, and H. Rose-Junius. 2021. “Social Welfare and Social Work in Namibia: Systems in Progression.” In Social Welfare and Social Work in Southern Africa, edited by N. Noyoo, 173–193. Cape Town: SUN Press. DOI:

Krause-Jackson, F. 2019. “Namibia to Keep Rand Peg, as Load Shedding Spills Over From SA.” Accessed August 8, 2023.

Ledwith, M. 2020. Community Development: A Critical and Radical Approach. Bristol: Policy Press. DOI:

Lombard, A. 2019. “Developmental Social Work.” In Theories for Decolonial Social Work Practice, edited by A. van Breda and J. Sekudu, 47–66. Cape Town: Oxford University Press.

Lombard, A., and J. Twikirize. 2014. “Global Agenda for Social Work and Social Development: First Report – Promoting Social and Economic Equalities.” International Social Work 57: (S4) 3–16. DOI:

Masabane, P., and R. Wiman. 2007. “Namibia: Social Welfare Sector Reform Implies Policy Reorientation.” Accessed February 16, 2023.

Midgley, J. 2014. Social Development: Theory and Practice. London: Sage. DOI:

Midgley, J. 2017. Social Welfare for a Global Era: International Perspectives on Policy and Practice. Thousand Oaks: Sage. DOI:

Mpofu, S. 2021. “Anti-Oppressive Perspectives on Social Work’s Responsibilities towards Irregular Migrants in South Africa.” Ethics and Social Welfare 15 (1): 20–35. DOI:

NSA (Namibia Statistics Agency. 2020. “Namibia Trade Statistics Bulletin.” Accessed February 20, 2023.

NSA (Namibia Statistics Agency). 2021. “Namibia Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) Report 2021.” Accessed August 19, 2023.

NSA (Namibia Statistics Agency). 2024. “Medial Release: Release of 2023 Population and Housing Census Preliminary results.” Accessed April 4, 2024.

Namibian Press Agency. 2019. “Nampol in Shortage of Social Workers.” Namibian Sun, January 1.

Netting, F. E., P M. Kettner, S. L. McMurtry, and M. L. Thomas. 2017. Social Work Macro Practice. Boston: Pearson.

Opperman, G. 2022. “SA Faces Shocking Shortage of Thousands of Social Workers – Gizella Opperman.” Accessed July 20, 2023.

Oxford Languages. “English Dictionary.” Accessed September 8, 2023.

Patel, L. 2015. Social Welfare and Social Development. Cape Town: Oxford University Press.

Payne, M. 2014. Modern Social Work Theory. London: Palgrave Macmillan. DOI:

Petersen, S. 2023. “Over 600 000 Namibians Surviving on Social Grants.” Namibian, May 20.

Pongweni, T., and N. Sikhakhane. 2024. “Welfare Crisis: Gauteng, KZN Non-Profits Sound Future Funding Alarm after Social Development Budget Cuts.” Daily Maverick, March 24.

Republic of Namibia. 1990. “Constitution of the Republic of Namibia.” Accessed February 12, 2023.

Republic of Namibia. 2004a. Social Work and Psychology Act 6 of 2004. Windhoek: Government Printer.

Republic of Namibia. 2004b. “Vision 2030: Policy Framework for Long-Term National Development.” Accessed June 14, 2023.

Republic of Namibia. 2014. Social Development Policy: Situational Analysis on Social Development in Namibia. Version 5, 4th Draft. Windhoek: Ministry of Health and Social Services.

RSA (Republic of South Africa). 1978. “South African Council of Social Service Professions Act 110 of 1978.” Accessed May 12, 2023.

RSA (Republic of South Africa). 1996. “Constitution of the Republic of South Africa.” Accessed July 20, 2023.

RSA (Republic of South Africa). 1997. “White Paper for Social Welfare.” Accessed May 12, 2023.

RSA (Republic of South Africa). 2012. “National Development Plan 2030: Our Future – Make It Work.” Accessed August 13, 2023.

RSA (Republic of South Africa). 2023. “How Do I Apply for a Social Grant?” Accessed August 13, 2023.

SACSSP (South African Council for Social Service Professions). 2023. “Statement on 66th Meeting of Council.” Accessed July 23, 2023.

Sewpaul, V., and L. Kreitzer. 2021. “Emancipatory Social Work, Ubuntu, and Afrocentricity: Antidotes to Human Rights Violations.” In The Tensions between Culture and Human Rights Emancipatory Social Work and Afrocentricity in a Global World, edited by V. Sewpaul, L. Kreitzer and T. Raniga, 273–295. Calgary: University of Calgary Press. DOI:

Shokane, A. L., and M. A. Masoga. 2019. “Social Work as Protest: Conversations with Selected First Black Social Work Women in South Africa.” Critical and Radical Social Work 7 (3): 435–445. DOI:

Smith, L. 2014. “Historiography of South African Social Work: Challenging Dominant Discourses.” Social Work/Maatskaplike Werk 50 (3): 305–331 DOI:

Stats SA (Statistics South Africa). 2020. “Child Poverty in South Africa: A Multiple Overlapping Deprivation Analysis.” Accessed August 12, 2023.

Stats SA (Statistics South Africa). 2022. “60,6 Million People in South Africa.” Accessed February 19, 2023.

Sulla, V., P. Zikhali, and F. Cuevas. 2022. “Inequality in Southern Africa: An Assessment of the Southern African Customs Union – (English).” Accessed March 12, 2023.

Taylor, V. 2018. “Transforming Social Welfare Policy: Africa and South Africa.” In The Political Economy of Social Welfare Policy in Africa, edited by V. Taylor and J. Triegaardt, 2–34. Cape Town: Oxford.

UN (United Nations). 2015. “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.” Accessed February 19, 2023.

UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund). 2017. “2016/2017 Budget – Children and the Namibian Budget: Social Assistance and Welfare.” Accessed September 4, 2023.

UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund). 2018. “2017/2018 Budget – Children and the Namibian Budget: Social Assistance and Welfare.” Accessed September 3, 2023.

Van Breda, A. 2019. “Introduction to Social Work Theory.” In Theories for Decolonial Social Work Practice in South Africa, edited by A. van Breda and J. Sekudu, 1–19. Cape Town: Oxford University Press.

Wiman, R., T. Voipio, and M. Ylönen. 2007. “Comprehensive Social and Employment Policies for Development in a Globalizing World.” Accessed February 16, 2023.

World Bank. 2022. “The World Bank in Middle Income Countries.” Accessed May 12, 2023.,62%25%20of%20the%20world's%20poor

World Bank. 2023a. “Data – World Bank Country and Lending Groups.” Accessed February 19, 2023.

World Bank. 2023b. “Namibia Overview.” Accessed March 20, 2023.

Young, I. M. 2007. Global Challenges: War, Self-Determination, and Responsibility for Justice. London: Polity Press.




How to Cite

Chiwara, Peggie. 2024. “Structural Inequalities in Namibia and South Africa: A Critical Social Work Perspective”. Southern African Journal of Social Work and Social Development 36 (2):18 pages.



Received 2023-09-08
Accepted 2024-04-05
Published 2024-05-27