Social Work and Social Policy in Namibia
Social Work and Social Policy in Namibia
- Priscilla A. Gibson, Priscilla A. GibsonUniversity of Minnesota
- Janet Ananias, Janet AnaniasUniversity of Namibia
- Rachel FreemanRachel FreemanUniversity of Namibia
- and Namoonga ChilwaloNamoonga ChilwaloUniversity of Namibia
Social work and social policy are intertwined in the Republic of Namibia and heavily influenced by its complex colonial sociopolitical history, struggle for human rights, and progress toward social development. These factors inform how the social and human needs of Namibians are being met. A human rights lens was adopted in 1990 by a democratic government that guided the delivery of social services to a diverse ethnic population. Namibia has successfully integrated social work into its society, supported by (a) a social justice mandate, (b) a capacity-building framework, and (c) Vision 2030. Social and human service needs are provided naturally by indigenous families and communities, and formal services are provided by governmental and nongovernmental agencies. This article consists of an overview of the socio-historical and political contexts of social work and social policies in this emerging democracy, along with special attention to four challenging and interrelated areas of social work practice including poverty, language and national identity, intergenerational caregiving and the Coronavirus pandemic.
- International and Global Issues
- Social Work Profession
The sociopolitical context of social work and its accompanying social policies in the Republic of Namibia (referred to as Namibia) are linked by their geographical location and history. Namibia, which was formerly called German South West Africa and then South West Africa, is picturesque, with mountains, coastal deserts, wild life (the big five safari animals), and pleasant weather that bode well for tourism but also impact governmental policies and social services, especially in rural areas (Ashley, 1998).
It is bordered by Angola and Zambia to the north; Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe to the east; South Africa to the south; and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. The ten main ethnic groups are Ovambo (50%), Kavango (9%), White Namibians (7%), Herero (7%), Damara (7%), Nama (5), Caprivian (4%), Busman (3%), Tswana (1%) and others (less than 1%). (Ethnic Groups of Namibia, 2019). In Namibia, language is used as a proxy for ethnicity, hence the following ethnic language groups include (a) Zambezi groups: Silozi (Sikololo), Sifwe, Sisubiya, Siyeyi (Yei), and Totela; (b) Herero groups: Otjiherero, Otjimbanderu, Oruzemba, Otjizimba, Otjihakahona, Otjindongona, and Otjitjavikwa; and (c) Kavango groups: Rukwangali, Rushambyu, Rugciriku, Thimbukushu, Rumanyo, and Rukavango (Namibia Statistics Agency (n.d)). The other emerging groups are Afrikaan, Asian, and European (Swedish, British, and Portuguese) (Amoo & Skeffers, 2008; Cultural Survival, 2016). Namibia’s racial groups are composed of 87.5% Blacks, 6.5% mixed race (Coloreds), and 6% Whites (Schwella et al., 2015). The capital city is Windhoek, and the official language is English (NSA, 2017). It has three major cities: Windhoek, Rundu, and Walvis Bay.
Social Justice and Human Rights
The emergence of social justice issues can be traced to1884 under Germany’s rule, when Namibia was subjected to colonialism; and in the 1900s, when apartheid was imposed by South Africa. Following Germany’s colonial rule from 1884 to 1915, the League of Nations mandated that the Union of South Africa govern Namibia with the aim of enhancing the Namibian people’s well-being after Germany’s withdrawal in 1919 (Chiwara & Lombard, 2017). Nonetheless, Namibia was disenfranchised, with the introduction of the apartheid system giving rise to further poverty and inequality for its Black residents (Amathila, 2012; Freeman & Gibson, 2020; Frydman, 2011). In fact, both Germany and South Africa, especially South Africa’s apartheid system, forced oppressive and discriminatory policies that violated Black Namibians’ human rights (Amathila, 2012; Horn, 2009). Namibia gained its independence through a liberation struggle led by the South West African People’s Organization (SWAPO) in 1990 (Frydman, 2011; McDougall, 1986). Frydman (2011) described the conditions in the newly independent country as
characterized by segregation, vast urban and rural poverty, a highly skewed distribution of wealth, unequal access to land and natural resources and dramatic inequalities in the quality of education and health services deficit and a slew of social imbalances to be resolved (p. 178).
In addition, there was an influx of people from rural areas to urban areas, resulting in a rapid growth of Informal Settlements on the outskirts of the towns (Indongo, 2015). Muller (2018) adhered to the international description of Informal Settlements as slum areas without durable housing and temperature control, sufficient living space (meaning not more than three people sharing the same space), and access to safe water and sanitation, and which lack of attention from governmental policies.
From the period 1993–1994 to 2009–2010, Namibia made great strides in economic growth, where official estimates of poverty levels declined by 40.6% (from 69.3% to 28.7%) (World Bank, 2017). For that reason, it has been ranked as an upper middle-income country (Schade et al., 2019). Yet this designation is controversial. The continued socioeconomic inequalities and structural barriers to growth and job creation have resulted in Namibia being given the label of a “developing country” (World Bank in Namibia, n.d.). Pre-independence Namibian society was marked by ethnic and racial division that was enforced by the South African apartheid regime (Stell & Fox, 2015). After Independence, nation-building was the objective, thus segregated services were discontinued (Malan, 1993), with the necessity to indicate one’s ethnicity no longer required for official purposes. The byproduct was that many Namibian publications used the region of residence or main language spoken by the participants, instead of their ethnicity.
The oppressed ethnic groups in Namibia are the indigenous people whom the Namibian government refers to as marginalized (Dieckmann et al., 2014). These are the San, Ovatue also known as the Ovatwa, Ovatjimba, Ovahimba, and Ovazemba. Generally, their culture and ways of life are dependent on natural resources. According to NSA (2017), these ethnic groups account for about 8% of the total population across regions in the country. They continue to experience discrimination and exclusion because of their lack of development and advancement compared to the mainstreamed indigenous people.
Most social policies in Namibia are, however, grounded in its constitution, which focuses on human rights and addresses social inequities that existed during the colonial periods (Kaure, 1994). For example, the principles of state policy in Chapter 11 of the Namibian Constitution promote the maintenance of people’s welfare with regards to fairness and reasonable access to public facilities and social benefits for marginalized groups (“Namibia’s Constitution of 1990,” 2014).
Social Policies Influencing Human Rights and Social Justice
The emergence of human rights in Namibia is part of the history of the independence struggle. Although diversity is inherent, human rights in Namibia had a complex process with accompanying social policies that are best explained in two historical periods: precolonial through apartheid, and independence through post-independence. With each period, social policy and social work had varying roles and levels of prominence.
Precolonial Through Apartheid Era
Namibia, because of its history of colonialization, racism, and apartheid, experienced a long and arduous journey to attain human rights (Frydman, 2011). The concept of human rights first became an issue when Namibia saw the need for securing self-determination and sovereignty. Human rights can be separated into two main groups: (a) civil and political rights; and (b) economic, social, and cultural rights (Nakuta, 2008). Later, Horn (2009) provided this detailed rationale: “Our experience of persecution and racialism over many years has deepened our unqualified commitment to democratic rule, the eradication of racialism, the establishment of the rule of law and the entrenchment of human rights” (p. 101). The United Nations facilitated and supported Namibia’s liberation struggle by (a) putting pressure on the South African government, (b) passing 435 resolutions to track Namibia’s transition to independence, and (c) supervising a constituent assembly responsible for Namibia’s Constitution draft (Ruppel & Ambunda, 2011). The process of the liberation struggle was based on the notion of inclusion and can be traced to the mid-1970s, when it facilitated the adoption of a Constitution to recognize that Namibians had been denied their individual rights (Horn, 2009). The human rights’ Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) was established with the aim of supporting many Namibians who had limited human rights during apartheid. It provided services on human rights education training, informing and offering advice to the public, research and advocacy, and litigation (Overview of the Namibian Constitution, 2008).
Independent Through Post-independent Period
Namibia negotiated human rights as one of its missions in gaining independence. Human rights can be defined as universal rights for every human being, irrespective of one’s nationality, gender, ethnicity, color, religion, language, or any other status consideration (Mubangizi, 2006). The Ombudsman’s Office was created with the constitutional mandate to protect human rights and deal with human rights in a less confrontational manner (Horn, 2009; Ruppel & Ambunda, 2011). The Constitution, especially Chapter 3 of the Bill of Rights, is embedded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by United Nations (UN) member states (Mubangizi, 2006). The Constitution as a supreme law of the nation embraces the rule of law that confirms Namibia as a “democratic and unitary state founded on the principles of democracy, rule of law and justice for all” (Ruppel & Ambunda, 2011, p. 25).
Post-independence ushered in numerous policy changes including a two-pronged approach to the human rights’ violation: (a) redressing the violated human rights during the apartheid regime and (b) focusing on national reconciliation (“Status of Human Rights Organizations in Sub-Saharan African Namibia,” n.d.). For example, there was an effort to reform land rights and lower unemployment, economic restrictions, and housing problems faced by the Black majority population (Horn, 2009). The Human Rights and Documentation Centre was created and aimed at having a national and regional focus of facilitating the Bill of Rights, also known as the Fundamental Rights and Freedoms. The Centre’s mission was enforced by the involvement of the University of Namibia (UNAM) Faculty of Law, which placed emphasis on its inclusion in the curriculum (“Status of Human Rights Organizations,” n.d.). Mubangizi (2006) categorized three generations of human rights. The first generation includes civil and political rights, which include the right to vote, freedom of speech, and freedom from discrimination, as well as the right to a fair trial. The second generation consists of economic, social, and cultural rights, such as the right to health, housing, social security, and education. The third generation comprises collective rights such as self-determination and development. Social work practice and education in Namibia are inherently linked with social work policy that continues to be influenced by social justice issues and the resilience displayed by this emerging country on the African continent. It evolved from a system of indigenous helping to formal helping (Rwomire & Raditlhokwa, 1996). The term “indigenous” instead of “informal” is used in this context, as the latter is viewed as a deficit-centered gaze rooted in settler colonialism (Tuck & Yang, 2012).
Social Work Practice
In Namibia, social work practice preceded social work education. On the African continent, what would be considered social work practice was provided informally through an indigenous helping system by family members, neighbors, and communities (Kamwanyah, 2016; Rwomire & Raditlhokwa, 1996). Social work was pioneered in South Africa in the 1920s as a profession for Whites provided by Whites (Sewpaul & Lombard, 2004) and initiated in Namibia by churches during the early 1950s (Muinjangue, 2015). Social workers employed by the church were predominantly White and offered services only to the members of their church and other White Namibian communities. In the late 1950s, the apartheid government introduced welfare services to families and their children, elders, and people with disabilities based on racial segregation (Ananias et al., 2017; Grobler, 2007). During the period of 1970–1990, social work service delivery expanded to other areas such as medical social work, correctional social work, and social work in policing; however, services provided by the state welfare and churches continued to be based on ethnicity (Ananias et al., 2017).
The Health Professionals Council of Namibia (HPCNA) certify social work practitioners guided by the Social Work and Psychology Act No. 6 of 2004 (Matthews et al., 2014). In addition, the Department of Social Work also follows regional and international standards of social work education. It has institutional membership with the Association for the Schools of Social Work in Africa (ASSWA) and International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW). Additionally, the Department trains its students in social development– and policy- related modules, which were integrated in 2010 in the second-year level of the social work curriculum (Ananias & Lightfoot, 2012; Chiwara & Lombard, 2017).
Social Work Education
During 1970–1990, social work education was obtained from universities in South Africa or elsewhere outside of Namibia (Ananias et al., 2017). As a result of the apartheid government policies, access to tertiary education was also arranged according to racially separated identification of Blacks, Whites, and people of color. Thus, White Namibians attended white South African universities for Whites and Black Namibians matriculated at institutions earmarked for Africans (O’Callaghan, 1977).
Bantu Education Influence on Social Work Education
Bekisizwe (2013) provided an explanation between Bantu Education and apartheid education: “Whereas apartheid education lumped together the oppressive education system ‘offered’ to Blacks, Coloured, and Indians collectively, Bantu Education was specifically ‘offered’ only Blacks through the Department of Native Affairs and later the Department of Bantu Education” (p. 22). Bantu education originated in South Africa and was imposed in Namibia by South Africa. Bantu (referring to Blacks) consisted of an educational system that taught Blacks that they were inferior, limited skills for Blacks, and focused on manual labor and menial jobs. It resulted in a lack of funding and expenditures for Black schools and fewer Black professionals (Kandumbu, 2005). Whites, on the other hand, were given a superior education and taught that they were superior (Bekisizwe, 2013; Kandumbu, 2005).
Dr. Zed Ngavirue was the first Black social worker to obtain a bachelor’s degree in social work from the University of Fort Hare, South Africa (Ananias et al., 2017). In 1976, a certificate course for welfare workers was introduced at the Augustineum Training College in Windhoek. The entry requirement to enroll was a tenth-grade education, whereas the requirement to enroll for a social work qualification was a high school certificate (Ministry of Health and Social Services, 2011). Welfare workers were offering supportive services to supplement social work services by conducting services for clients who had completed alcohol rehabilitation and for children who had been placed in foster care. The diffusion of roles and responsibilities between social workers and welfare workers precipitated the welfare workers being offered an opportunity to enroll for a social work qualification (Matthews et al., 2014). The training of welfare workers was discontinued in Namibia in 1984.
Social work education was established in 1983 (Matthews et al., 2014) under the Academy for Tertiary Education, an institution of higher learning in the country that existed from 1980 to 1992 (Ananias et al., 2017). In 1992, the University of Namibia (UNAM) was established by an Act of Parliament that created a four-year bachelor’s degree in social work (honors) (Matthews et al., 2014). UNAM is the only institution of higher learning that offers a social work degree in Namibia. The department of social work has evolved and has a diverse faculty reflecting Namibian indigenous communities.
It offers both a master’s and a doctoral degree in social work (Chipare et al., 2020; Chiwara & Lombard, 2017). It also trains students from neighboring countries, mainly Zimbabwe and Zambia. The Senate approves the curriculum that is accredited by the Namibian Qualification Authority. On June 1, 2021, the Department of Social Work merged with the Department of Psychology. This transformation the entire university, in which 80 departments were merged into 50 departments, was structured for sustainability, efficiency, and improved collaboration between disciplines and programs (Nakale, 2021).
Intersection of Social Work Practice and Social Work Education
Given that social work practice and education originated in and were influenced by the colonial period, there is a strong Eurocentric orientation (Nicholas et al., 2010) that has been critiqued by many authors. Mabvurira (2016) noted that social work follows Western values, such as capitalism and individualism, instead of collectivist values. Other authors are concerned with the lack of African traditional knowledge to infuse traditional cultures in social work (Gray et al., 2014). As Namibia evolves and develops, it has adopted the social development approach and became a State Party by signing the United Nations Copenhagen Agreement post-independence (Ananias & Lightfoot, 2012). State Parties are countries that adhere to an international agreement. The social development approach is explained by Mbedzi (2015) as seeking “to encourage people to participate and collaborate in their own development” (p. 43). Namibia is described as taking the lead in social protection (Schade et al., 2019) and is one of the few countries in Africa that offers services to vulnerable populations such as children, people living with disabilities, and older persons (Devereux, 2007). Social protection “includes public and private arrangements that cover individuals at a range of income levels against a variety of risks” and is dealing with “making sufficient progress in eliminating persistent and deep-rooted poverty (especially amongst children), inequality and unemployment” (Schade et al., 2019, p. 5). As a developing country, it’s important to acknowledge that Namibia has achieved successes and continues to deal with challenges (Freeman & Gibson, 2020). Professional social work practice in the Namibian context is rooted in social development. Hence, it can be seen as a method or approach for addressing developmental challenges. Such challenges are centered on community resources through community participation and empowerment.
Namibia’s Vision 2030 is a national strategic plan developed between 1998 and 2002 to (a) reduce poverty and (b) improve the quality of life and further development by year 2030 (Office of the President, 2004). The president at that time, Dr. Sam Nujoma, described the three rationales for developing it:
3.1 A national Vision provides long term alternative policy scenarios on the future course of development in a country at different points in time up until the target year 2030.
3.2 The dynamic process in the long-term future is more important for planning than the end point of the process. Perspective thinking is particularly relevant for the short- and medium-term implementation of long-term planning targets.
3.3 Long-term perspective plans are also useful for anticipating changes and for understanding events that are likely to happen.
Vision 2030 includes social work in adopting a developmental framework (Office of the President, 2004). Vision 2030, in an effort to address the social and economic problems, it aims at facilitating social inclusion thereby cultivating the spirit of togetherness. Its goal is a prosperous and industrialized Namibia, developed by its own human resources to enjoying peace, harmony, and political stability. Drivers of this goal (Office of the President, 2004) include the following:
Education, Science, and Technology
Health and Development
Peace and Social Justice
Developmental social work is a holistic approach that deals with the person in environment. It utilizes community resources integrated at the micro-, mezzo-, and macro-systems level in enhancing livelihood capabilities and facilitates socioeconomic inclusion and social justice (Spitzer & Twikirize, 2014). Social workers assist communities in identifying local resources, developing them, and fostering social change. Lombard and Wairire (2010) described developmental social work as affirming the commitment of the social work profession to social justice, human rights, and the eradication of poverty and inequality.
Government Legislation Guiding Social Work Practice
The Social Work and Psychology Council established through the Social Work and Psychology Act No. 6 of 2004 serve as an oversight body to enforce policy. Social workers, psychologists, and social auxiliary workers are required to provide proof of their appropriate qualification (Ananias & Lightfoot, 2012). They must register and pay an annual membership fee to practice in Namibia. To ensure that social workers stay abreast with latest professional developments in the field, practicing social workers have to engage in continuous professional development (CPD) and acquire a certain number of points on a regular basis. Whereas the Social Work and Psychology Council functioned to protect the public interests by ensuring that social workers practice according to the professional code of ethics, the Namibia Social Workers Association (NASWA) promotes the interest of the practicing social worker. Namibia has a well-established social welfare infrastructure with social workers employed in a variety of state welfare agencies, nongovernmental organizations, faith-based organizations and international organizations (Ananias & Lightfoot, 2012).
Contemporary Social Work Issues in Urban and Rural Areas
Social work continues to address contemporary social issues such as poverty (Ananias & Lightfoot, 2012; Nakuta, 2008), national identity and language policy (Frydman, 2011; Staff Reporter, 2020), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) (Chipare et al., 2020), and coronavirus infection (Freeman, 2020). All of these issues point to the need for social support from not only governmental and nongovernmental agencies but also from indigenous families. Four current social issues were selected to highlight the context of social work practice and social policies informing it: poverty, language use and national identity, intergenerational caregiving, and coronavirus (COVID 19).
The current prevailing social and economic circumstances in Namibia are that poverty remains a challenge (Nakuta, 2008; NSA, n.d.). Namibia defines and measures poverty as “the number of people who are unable to command sufficient resources to satisfy basic needs. It is measured by the total number of people living below a specified minimum level of income or below a national poverty line” (Namibia Statistics Agency (n.d)). Of its population, 17.4% of Namibians were considered poor in 2016–2017. There are regional differences. For example, there are very high levels of poverty in the Kunene (Himba), Kavango East (San), Zambezi and Omaheke (San) regions. These regions have poverty levels above the national average of 17.4%. Lower levels of poverty are observed in Khomas, Erongo, and the ||Karas regions (NSA, 2018). The majority of Namibians still lack access to basic services such as health care and education (Freeman & Nkomo, 2006). The government provides free primary education, but fees are required for secondary and university education (Kaure, 1994). The disparity in education among various ethnic groups is evidenced especially in the San and Himba people, whose cultures are incongruent with most Namibian schools and procedures (Freeman & Nkomo, 2006; Frydman, 2011). For example, there are wide disparities in school enrollment between children from the Ovambo-speaking ethnic group as compared to children from the San community (Nakuta, 2008). The facts are similar for health and unemployment rates, where expenditures are unevenly distributed countrywide (Nakuta, 2008).
The government has started an ambitious development program to reduce poverty, create employment, and promote human rights (Ruppel & Ambunda, 2011). In 2015, it created a social economic development initiative, spearheaded by the Ministry of Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare, which must coordinate national efforts in poverty eradication by the year 2025. The Harambee Prosperity Plan (HPP) was initiated to complement the developmental efforts aimed at poverty and inequity reduction (Dempers, 2016; Schade et al., 2019). The Child Care Protection Act 3 of 2015 and Children Status Act 6 of 2006 mandated specific services to enhance child well-being. For example both parents would have equal status in cases of custody, placement, and responsibilities; ensure child care and protection; and provide places of safety allowance, maintenance grant, and foster parent allowance (Child Care Protection Act 3, 2015; Children Status Act 6, 2006). The following grants are available for children maintenance: places of safety allowance, foster care grant, and grant for caregivers of vulnerable children. People with a permanent disability also receive a disability grant from the state, and all citizens above the age of 60 years receive a non-contributory pension from the state.
Language Use and National Identity
Communication, language, and national identity are intertwined in social work practice. The diverse languages spoken by Namibians raise issues of access to social services, language used for service delivery, and service needs according to national identity. It is estimated that there are 10–30 languages or dialects spoken in Namibia (Frydman, 2011). With the integration of colonial thinking, tribal and ethnic groups were disengaged from their roots and language (Tuhiwai Smith, 1999). Despite English being the official language of Namibia, the use of this language is controversial, with calls to form a national identity via a common language (Staff Reporter, 2020) that supports unity (Frydman, 2011). Languages used by the German and Afrikaans are viewed by Black Namibians as the language of the oppressors (Frydman, 2011; Staff Reporter, 2020). Having English as Namibia’s official language is beneficial to international business and education but less so to rural areas and to some indigenous ethnic groups (Frydman, 2011).
Intergenerational Caregiving and AIDS/HIV
Traditionally, caregiving to family members was provided indigenously by an older generation for many reasons as a normal practice (Brown, 2014). There is a growing phenomenon of younger generations caring for their parents and siblings due to HIV/AIDS prevalence that negatively affected Namibia during the 1990s (Lekalakala-Mokgele, 2011). Yet, overwhelmingly, intergenerational caregiving is done by grandmothers for grandchildren and other young relatives (Amathila, 2012). The critically high unemployment rate in Namibia forces parents to seek jobs away from home, leaving grandmothers to care for their grandchildren (Frayne, 2010). The resultant physical distance makes it difficult for parents to assist with the daily challenges faced by the grandmother caregiver. For a myriad of social, economic, and geographical reasons, grandparents are also essential caregivers for family members with chronic illness (Kalomo et al., 2017).
Many children described as “AIDS orphans” live in abject poverty, and about 22% of these are living with an elderly caregiver, in most cases, a grandmother (NSA, 2012). In addition, a number of researchers have shown that older persons, especially those 50 or more years of age, are primary caregivers of children whose parents had AIDS (Kalomo & Liao, 2018; Lekalakala-Mokgele, 2011). Grandmothers as caregivers experience caregiver’s burden (Kalomo & Liao, 2018; Lekalakala-Mokgele, 2011), part of which includes psychological strain and negative effects on health (Lekalakala-Mokgele). Despite the current decline in HIV and AIDS in Namibia, challenges are anticipated to continue for the next 10–20 years (World Health Organization [WHO], Namibia, 2020a), which will increase the need for family caregivers throughout this country. For example, Lekalakala-Mokgele (2011) noted that the sheer numbers of infections including elders with HIV and the loss of income among traditionally productive adults call for children to also become caregivers.
Income is also a factor in intergenerational caregiving. Freeman and Nkomo (2006) asserted that poverty and low economic status correlates with negative outcomes to grandmothers’ welfare and predisposes them to depression. Most grandmothers are unemployed and lack government pension funding related to their age. Kalomo et al. (2017) found that grandmothers living with children due to AIDS receive insufficient social and economic support and are in severe financial stress. Sabella (2012) investigated the role of government empowerment programs for grandmother caregivers and concluded that caregivers who received social welfare grants and monthly pensions were able to afford basic needs and had better health and fulfilling lives.
Investment Approach is part of a framework incorporated in the new National Strategic Framework (NSF) for HIV/AIDS Response in Namibia 2017–2018 to 2021–2022 (Ministry of Health and Social Services, 2017). This strengths-based approach identifies that the diverse strengths and capacities of family caregivers across generations are congruent with its mission. It stresses the importance of empowerment and expanding strengths, explains the developmental stages, and addresses quality of life for those infected and affected by HIV and the reduction of new infections.
COVID-19 was detected in Namibia on March 13, 2020, after a couple who arrived in Windhoek from Madrid, Spain, tested positive (“COVID-19 Pandemic in Namibia,” n.d.). The result prompted the Minister of Health and Social Services (MOHSS) to announce its presence in the country (Freeman, 2020). The Namibian president declared a state of emergency under Sub-Article 5 of Article 26 of the Namibian Constitution of 1990 (President of the Republic of Namibia, 2020) that introduced restrictive measures. These included the closure of all borders, the suspension of gatherings, and economic-related restrictions (Freeman, 2020). The Namibian government attempted to curb the transmission and spread of COVID-19 by phased lockdown measures in four stages, each designed to restrict movement in and among regions of the country (Freeman et al., 2021). The president also mandated quarantine and isolation facilities for returning Namibians and permanent residents who were infected, for a period of 14 days, and alternative accommodations to persons without shelter for a period of at least three months (Freeman, 2020).
To monitor and prevent further progression of COVID-19, a National Health Emergency Management Committee was created under the leadership of the MOHSS (Freeman, 2020). In addition, an Incident Management System was established to strengthen the operationalization of the National Public Health Emergency Operation Center (NPHEOC), which became the central hub from where all COVID-19 responders operated (Freeman et al., 2021). In prioritizing the health of all Namibians, a multi-sectoral response team was established, which was comprised of government sectors, development partners, higher education institutions, the private sector, faith-based organizations, and civil society organizations. These partners collaborated in the development of a National Response Plan for COVID-19 (Freeman, 2020). In July 2020, the health minister announced a relaxation in quarantine protocols that accounted for faster recovery rates. Patients with a positive COVID-19 result were automatically regarded as recovered 10 days after their infection, given that they had no COVID-19 related symptoms (Freeman, 2020).
COVID-19 has also brought about changes in social work practice responses, which were facing one of the most challenging times in addressing the urgent social needs of vulnerable groups (Freeman, 2020). A group of social workers convened by the MOHSS introduced a community-based intervention model that differentially handles cases based on the patient’s risk: residents sheltered in place, quarantined contacts, and other COVID-19 factors (Freeman et al., 2021). An interdisciplinary team of social workers, community workers, medical workers, and volunteers implemented the model. They employed telehealth interventions to provide health education, online screening, volunteer coordination, and crisis services (Freeman et al., 2021).
The COVID-19 pandemic presented one of the most serious public health crises in Namibia, with the fastest spread and the widest infection range, challenging the country’s socioeconomic development and its citizens’ daily livelihoods (Freeman, 2020). The central government has played a proactive role by issuing a number of key policies in the field of health, safety, and social security that attempted to relieve fear and anxiety of patients infected and families affected by COVID-19. These policies mobilized social resources through the establishment of Pillar 9 on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support as part of the National Disaster Management Plan (Freeman, 2020). In accordance with the WHO Guidelines (2020) and informed by the country’s context, a customized Multi-Sectoral National Response Plan for COVID-19 in Namibia is comprised of nine technical pillars (WHO, Namibia, 2020a):
Country Coordination, Planning and Monitoring
Risk Communication and Community Engagement
Surveillance & Contact Tracing
Points of Entry
Infection Prevention and Control
Operations and Logistics
Mental Health and Psychosocial Support
Namibia, as an emerging, young democracy, continues to face challenges due to the legacy of colonialism and apartheid, but is dealing with them through an array of social and public policies. Since achieving independence, Namibia has integrated social justice, human rights, and social protection into all aspects of its policies. Social work education and practice continue to evolve and are informed by social policies (Edwards-Jauch, 2016) that systemically support the well-being of Namibians. Social work in Namibia can provide many lessons to international social work education and practice. Today Namibia is in the process of growth and development while also having to deal with issues currently faced by other countries.
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