College of Human Sciences

Dr Mathebane wins top Social Work award

Dr Mbazima Mathebane from the Department of Social Work in Unisa’s College of Human Sciences was this year awarded the Up and Coming Educator of the Year from the Association of South African Social Work Education Institutions (ASASWEI).

The Association comprises schools of social work, other tertiary level social work educational programmes, and social work educators.  It promotes the development of social work education throughout South Africa, develops standards to enhance quality of social work education, encourages international exchange, provides forums for sharing social work research and scholarship, and promotes human rights and social development through policy and advocacy activities.

Dr Mathebane received the award during the Association’s annual conference, which was this year held in collaboration with the National department of Social Development, National Association of Social Workers South Africa (NASWSA) and the Association of Schools of Social Work in Africa (ASSWA).

The criteria for the award was that entrants be under the age of 45; have worked less than five years in academia; are in possession of a PhD or are working towards a PhD; have contributed to curriculum development and roles played in taking education forward; and have evidence of developing their academic profile via participation in conferences, committee and publications.

Dr Mathebane said he is particularly proud of the fact that after more than 12 years in the field, he came to academia and managed to complete his PhD in record time (three years) without any special leave. “I felt very excited, honored, humbled and inspired by this recognition. I have been doing my best to contribute to the discipline and profession of social work and never really expected this level of recognition at this point. I recently lost my wife and mother of my two kids (Winnie Mathebane) who was a Unisan and worked tirelessly behind the scenes to support my work. I dedicate the award to her enduring spirit.”

He added: “The award means that my contribution is recognised by my peers in the profession and that I should double my efforts. It affirms my potential to contribute more to the discipline and the profession. I am encouraged to do more and I believe I will if God allows me the opportunity and health to carry on with my work. It also affirms the alignment of my work to his purpose as the book of proverbs 19:21 states, “all are plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails”. I am truly grateful.”

Speaking on what this award means for Unisa as the university aims to become a leading centre of African knowledge production and solutions for African problems, Dr Mathebane had the following to say.

It puts Unisa on the map. We have just came out of a painful process of de-accreditation of our social work programme at Unisa in the past two years. Our new programme was recently approved by the Council for Higher Education (CHE) and is due to be rolled out starting 2018. This process dealt a blow to our reputation amongst our counterparts nationally. I belief this recognition will go a long way in helping us regain our lost reputation.

“Furthermore, the award represents recognition for the contribution to developing indigenous and decolonial social work education in South Africa which is my area of interest. It means that, mine and Unisa’s contribution to the area of indigenous and decolonial social work is making an impact and indeed recognized by the social work education fraternity in South Africa.”

So why is Dr Mathebane so passionate about social work? “This field is about people and their transactions with their social environments. We believe that people shape and are shaped by the environment and our interventions to address social challenges are informed by that basic premise. Therefore, my passion for social work stems from my strong belief in the philosophy of social work that recognizes that we are where we are. We are because we belong. Not because we think because our thinking is also shaped by our context. This links to culture. This philosophy centers everything on culture. Therefore, the way we approach and solve problems is a cultural function whether acknowledged or not.

“This philosophy drove me to an interest in indigenous forms of helping as an alternative to reliance on the hegemonic eurocentric approaches used in mainstream social work. Standing on a vantage point of being an African professionally displaced by colonial and eurocentric social work, I found it personally liberating to engage with the discourse on indigenous social work and the decolonisation movement. I have since grown in my appreciation of these areas as my research interest and hope to grow even further.”

In his spare time Dr Mathebane listens to local gospel, jazz and traditional music. He regularly attends gym and is trying to find a marathon club as he plans on running the Comrades Marathon in 2019. He describes himself as a family man who is spiritually inclined and attends church almost every Sunday and is actively involved in church activities.

“Another thing that people do not know about me is that I am a tried and tested entrepreneur, having ventured into ICT, recycling and now a real and active livestock farmer and venturing into crop production lately. I am also a biker (motorbike).”

* By Rivonia Naidu-Hoffmeester (CHS communications and marketing)