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British Journal of Social Work (2012) 42, 974–994

doi:10.1093/bjsw/bcr143 Advance Access publication October 11, 2011

Education for Change: Student Placements in Campaigning Organisations and Social Movements in South Africa
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Iain Ferguson* and Linda Smith
Dr Iain Ferguson is a Senior Lecturer in Social Work in the School of Applied Social Science at the University of Stirling, Scotland, and a Research Associate of the School of Human and Community Development at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa. He is the author of Reclaiming Social Work: Challenging Neoliberalism and Promoting Social Justice (Sage, 2008) and Radical Social Work in Practice (with Rona Woodward, Bristol, The Policy Press, 2009). Linda Smith is a lecturer in the Department of Social Work, School of Human and Community Development at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, with interest in the areas of critical and radical social work, social justice, social change and social work education. She co-ordinates the fourth-year social work programme and is currently completing her Ph.D. in the area of social work education and critical imperatives for social change. *Correspondence to Dr Iain Ferguson, Senior Lecturer in Social Work, School of Applied Social Science, University of Stirling, Stirling FK9 4LA, Scotland, UK. E-mail: Iain.ferguson@stir.ac.uk

Abstract
The past few years have seen renewed interest in the radical social work tradition both in Britain and internationally in response to the highly negative impact of neo-liberal policies on people’s lives and on the profession itself. While these perspectives are now beginning to be included within social work academic curricula, less consideration has been given within the international literature as to how they might also inform practice placements and field education. This paper outlines the findings of a small piece of qualitative research that explored the experience of one South African social work programme of placing a small group of students within campaigning organisations and social movements concerned with addressing structural issues. Based on interviews with the students, their practice teachers and agency representatives, the research addressed the extent to which students were able to draw on their teaching to make sense of these agencies and their role within them, as well as the particular challenges to which these placements gave rise. The paper concludes by suggesting that, while students undertaking such placements may require additional support and teaching in

# The Author 2011. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Association of Social Workers. All rights reserved.

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areas such as the understanding of trauma and critical political analysis, these findings suggest that this is an initiative worth repeating. Keywords: Community work, international social work, neo-liberalism, practice placements, radical social work, social movements

Accepted: September 2011

Introduction
In a review of issues in international social work at the beginning of this century, Midgley identified the activist or radical tradition as one of the three main approaches that have shaped social work since its earliest beginnings, the others being remedial and social development approaches (Midgley, 2001). At the same time, as he correctly noted, while often exerting considerable influence, it has always been a minority tradition. The past few years, however, have seen a re-awakening of interest in critical and radical approaches (e.g. Reisch and Andrews, 2002; Ferguson and Woodward, 2009; Allan et al., 2009; Webb, 2010). If there is one single reason for that renewed interest, it relates to the impact of the neo-liberal social and economic policies that have dominated both global and national governing bodies for close to three decades on people’s lives and on social work as a professional discipline. In the global South, these policies have typically taken the form of structural adjustment programmes that have required national governments to privatise whole swathes of their public services and utilities; in the West, they have operated through the vehicle of new public management (or managerialist) approaches involving the introduction of market mechanisms into every area of health and social care (Lymbery, 2000; Harris, 2003; Ferguson et al., 2004; McDonald, 2006; Garrett, 2008; Harris and White, 2009; Rogowski, 2010). While the hegemonic nature of neo-liberalism over the past three decades has meant that resistance to these policies and ideas within social work has often been slow to emerge, a number of factors including the emergence of a global anti-capitalist movement at the end of the last century (George, 2004) increased concern regarding the unprecedented levels of inequality that neo-liberal policies have produced (Wilkinson and Pickett, 2010), the re-emergence of global economic crisis in 2008 heralding a new era of austerity (Callinicos, 2010), and growing dissatisfaction with the realities of ‘neoliberal social work’ (Jones, 2004) have combined to create a new audience for radical ideas and approaches. While these ideas have begun to penetrate the academic curricula of social work programmes, however, they have had less influence to date on discussions concerning the nature of practice placements and field
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education (with the partial exception of critical reflection approaches: Fook and Askeland, 2007). Unless students are given opportunities to test out these ideas in practice settings, however, it is unlikely that they will feel confident or competent enough to integrate them into their practice as qualified practitioners. This paper will explore one attempt to provide students with such opportunities. It discusses an initiative undertaken in one social work programme in South Africa that involved placing fourth-year students in social movements and campaigning organisations for the community work component of their final placement. The educators’ aim was to expose students to more radical forms of practice and to explore the potential contribution of social work to the agencies in that they were placed. A British academic (first co-author of this paper) was invited to evaluate this initiative through a small-scale qualitative research project by the South African social work academic and placement co-ordinator responsible for setting up the placements (second co-author of this paper). Although the number of placements involved was small, the findings of this research are relevant to social work educators and practitioners for two reasons. First, the changing nature of social work and social care provision brought about by the marketisation of welfare makes it less likely that every student will have the opportunity to undertake the ‘traditional’ statutory placement (neither, given the increasingly restrictive nature of statutory social work in the UK at least, is it always desirable that they do so: Bellinger, 2010). Exploring both the possibilities and the limitations of non-traditional placements settings, including social movements and campaigning organisations, to provide a productive learning environment for students is essential if the practice experience is to be a rewarding one. Second, given the widespread dissatisfaction noted above at what social work has become, a dissatisfaction arguably felt most strongly in the UK but by no means confined to there (Scottish Executive, 2006; Ferguson et al., 2004), it seems an appropriate time to look outwards to the experience of students, practitioners and educators in other countries, including the Global South, who are seeking to construct a social work rooted in social justice, better able to address issues of poverty, inequality and oppression. As recent discussions of indigenisation have highlighted, for most of its history, the flow of social work theories and methods has been from West to South and East, reflecting the political, economic and ideological differentials produced by colonialism and imperialism (Gray et al., 2008). By contrast, this paper and the research on which it is based start from the assumption that much can be learned by academics and practitioners in the West from the experience of colleagues working in countries such as South Africa and Brazil, who are seeking to forge closer links between social work and social movements (see also Thompson, 2002).

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South Africa, social work and social movements
South African social work must be understood in the context of the country’s complex ‘entanglement’ of the post-colonial, post-apartheid and racist capitalist structures. Historically, social welfare policy and social work in South Africa arose from and served the nationalist and racist apartheid project. The poverty that existed in the early 1900s and was the focus of the Carnegie Commission of Enquiry into the ‘poor white problem’ elicited intervention from the state with the creation of the Department of Welfare in 1938 and formal training of social workers (Gray and Mazibuko, 2002). The traditional approach of this training was that of a therapeutic and micro-practice-level nature. According to Lombard, the basis for social work training, although it varied across schools of social work, was predominantly that of the welfare system of the day and focused on the preparation of practitioners for work in a therapeutic and restorative social welfare system (Lombard, 1998, p. 17). However, a vibrant history around the success of social movements in achieving social change has been demonstrated in South Africa. According to Thorn (2007, p. 911), South African anti-apartheid social movements had a global impact and ‘played a part in the emergence of a global civil society during the postwar era and was one of the most important historical predecessors of the global justice movement’. Similarly, although social work is indicted with having supported the status quo in South Africa, community work, especially as it emerged in the alternative social development movements, did have a radical and transformative character, as it challenged apartheid social welfare (Patel, 2005, p. 79). It was alternative and progressive practices such as these that would contribute to the beginnings of a more just social welfare system. After the democratic transition in 1994, South Africa declared itself to be a developmental state (Edigheji, 2006) and social welfare and social work moved towards the ‘developmental approach’ (Patel, 2005). The basis for this was the White Paper for Social Welfare (RSA, 1997) that contains the principles, policies and programmes for developmental social welfare in South Africa. It is the primary policy document for South African Social Welfare and serves as the foundation for social welfare in the post-1994 era. Both state departments and non-governmental welfare organisations (dependent on state subsidies for survival in most cases) therefore shifted their focus towards the developmental approach, guided by various statu¨ lscher, tory imperatives such as the Financing Policy (Sewpaul and Ho 2004), the Integrated Service Delivery Model (RSA, 2003) and the White Paper for Social Welfare (RSA, 1997). Social development also became the emphasis in social work education and curricula at all the various tertiary training institutions.

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However, developmental perspectives may still be viewed as remedial in Midgley’s sense (or individualist – reformist, in Payne’s classification: Payne, 2005, p. 25), relying on liberal or rational economic political philosophies with the aim of maintaining existing social orders (Payne, 2005, p. 25). The adoption of the neo-liberal Growth Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) strategy in 1996 (RSA, 1996) was a major shift from the Reconstruction and Development Programme, the major policy of the African National Congress at the time of the national democratic transition, aimed at ushering in liberation and a ‘better life for all’ (Desai, 2003; Sewpaul, 2006; Smith, 2008). The GEAR structural adjustment programme normalised corporate capitalist power in post-apartheid South Africa (Gibson, 2011, p. 63). The popular developmental approach is thus framed within the context of GEAR and its neo-liberal ideologies. Such emphasis on the free-market, privatisation, personal responsibility, selfreliance and even development itself competes with a more politicised, radical and structural social work and does not augur well for social work with its professional commitment to social justice (Sewpaul, 2006, p. 428). South Africa’s developmental social welfare model is based on Midgley’s (1995) definition of development being ‘a process of planned social change designed to promote the well-being of the population as a whole in conjunction with a dynamic process of economic development’. This perspective is in contrast with ‘distorted development . . . where economic development benefits a minority but leaves the majority of the population in deep and unchanged poverty’ (Bak, 2004, p. 82). However, South Africa’s model of development may be classed among such ‘distorted development’, as it seems to have failed when examining recent evidence of gross levels of inequality and under-development such as a worsened Gini-coefficient of 0.68 in 2008 (SABINET, 2010) and a lowered Human Development Index ranking South Africa at 121 out of 177 countries (Hassim, 2008, p. 105). Developmental social welfare is seen within the literature as a move away from a social pathology perspective towards social change (Patel, 2005). However, the ideological shift towards the neo-liberal agenda is increasingly demonstrated by talk of self-reliance and self-help. Although the developmental welfare approach in South Africa had rejected neo-liberal reliance on market fundamentalism, and was a ‘pro-poor strategy . . . to achieve social and economic justice, human rights, social solidarity and active citizenship’ (Patel, 2008, p. 73), it is also acknowledged that the neoliberal GEAR programme ‘contributed to an unfavourable climate’ for welfare services (Patel, 2008, p. 77). For example, Mazibuko (2008, p. 32) states about development policies:
While there is evidence that the policy objective of providing a safety net to the majority of the poor has been largely realized, the goal of helping the poor ‘lift themselves from poverty’ presents the biggest challenge for social welfare policy in post-apartheid South Africa.

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Given these ideological shifts in macro-economic and development policy, the South African government has ‘veered away from social development leaving the developmental welfare system floundering’ (Gray, 2006, p. 3). Bond (2008) aptly maintains that the developmental state is an abused phrase that, in the South African context, is ‘a combination of macroeconomic neoliberalism and unsustainable megaproject development, dressed up with rather tokenistic social welfare policy’. There appears therefore to be a disjuncture between the claims and ideals of the development agenda and the ideology of the state. Development has come to mean the achievement of self-help, self-sustainability and an economically active citizenry, as stated by Jacob Zuma (2011) in his recent state-of-the-nation presidential address: ‘Since we are building a developmental and not a welfare state, the social grants will be linked to economic activity and community development, to enable short-term beneficiaries to become self-supporting in the long run.’ The policy and ideological context in which developmental social work is framed therefore constrains the achievement of its vision and ideals. Gray (2006) argues that, if social workers are to pursue development that deals with poverty and inequality and work with marginalised and oppressed groups in society, developmental social work must be structural social work, specifically focusing on the structural determinants of inequalities (Gray, 2006, p. 30). Obligatory social development models, as conceived and promoted by formal welfare structures, seem unable to achieve the envisioned social and structural change. Given this official policy and ideological framework, more radical and structural approaches go beyond the scope of state departments and traditional non-governmental welfare organisations. It is within the more radical and alternative organisations and social movements that such social work approaches may be implemented.

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Education for change
In 2008, social work academic staff within a South African university decided to locate a small number of fourth-year students within nontraditional agency settings, including campaigning social movements and welfare organisations working at the sharp end of South African society. One aim in doing so was to explore the extent to which these placements might provide opportunities for the development of a more radical social work practice, better able to address the structural oppression, inequality and poverty experienced by people in South Africa. Within this particular programme, the final placement contains both a casework and a community work component and it was envisaged that these placement settings would allow students to meet the community work objectives of the course (though some also addressed the casework element).

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The UK-based writer of this paper was invited by the placement co-ordinator of the South African programme to conduct an initial exploratory evaluation of these placements at their mid-way point during a period of research leave in May 2009. Following discussion and consultation, it was agreed that the research would take the form of semi-structured interviews with students, practice teachers and agency personnel. Areas to be explored included the learning opportunities that these placements offered and their ‘fit’ with placement objectives; the relevance of the taught programme to the demands of these placements; the challenges that students encountered; and the extent to which these placements offered a model for a more radical social work education in South Africa and elsewhere. Ethical approval for the study (entitled ‘Education for change: Evaluating social work student placements in campaigning organizations and social movements’) was granted by the university’s Human Research Ethics Committee in April 2009 and fieldwork began in May 2009. While not ‘sensitive’ research in the sense that no service users were involved and the research questions were concerned with placement evaluation rather than the personal experiences of respondents, issues of consent and confidentiality were nevertheless important, given power differentials and the fact that some respondents (including student respondents) were critical of aspects of the placements. In addition, a small number of students had clearly experienced the placements as personally challenging, raising issues of appropriate support. In total, semi-structured interviews were conducted with seven students and a total of eight practice teachers and agency representatives where the practice teacher was not based at the agency. Twelve of the fifteen key interviews were transcribed and analysed by the first author using thematic analysis. This involved familiarisation with the data, based on close and repeated readings of the transcripts, coding of data and linking of findings to the original research questions (Ritchie and Spencer, 1994).

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The placements
The agencies in which the students were located provided them with a wide range of diverse learning opportunities. In the greater Johannesburg area, a broad spectrum of such organisations exists. These organisations, by virtue of their aims and strategies, often attract funding from sources outside of the formal state or business sector, thus relieving them of the constraints and demands imposed by such funding. This frees them to pursue strategies that may be considered radical and challenging of structural oppression and the status quo. The particular agencies selected for these ‘alternative’ and more unusual placement opportunities ranged from the more radical to the more traditional organisation but with a progressive focus. These were the Anti-Privatisation

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Forum, a radical anti-capitalist campaigning organisation; Khulumani, a progressive organisation with its roots in the unfinished business of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission); the CSVR, the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, formed during the period of struggle against Apartheid; and the RHRU, the Reproductive Health Research Unit, known for its progressive gender focus. The work of these organisations included community work with ex-combatants, individuals who had been involved in the military struggle against apartheid but who now felt abandoned and unsupported by the post-apartheid regime; therapeutic group work with the children of ex-combatants; group work with women in a small rural town; working with Zimbabwean women survivors of torture; participatory action research with a social movement campaigning for the right to electricity for members of poor townships; a media project aimed at helping people in rural areas to express and publicise their needs; campaigning work with people who had experienced torture or the loss or disappearance of relatives under the apartheid regime but whose suffering and loss had not been recognised by the Truth and Reconciliation set up after 1994; counselling and advocacy work around issues of HIV and AIDS, including educational work with sex workers from other parts of Africa; and working with victims of trauma at both an individual and a community level. While much of the work in which the students were involved would be easily recognizable to social work students elsewhere, in other respects, these placements differed from more conventional placements, both within South Africa and globally. First, and most obviously, they often contained an overtly political dimension. As Ramon and others have argued, all social work is political in that it is shaped by ideologies and power configurations, while social workers bring their own political worldviews to the task, whether consciously or otherwise (Ramon, 2008; Ferguson, 2012). In several of these placement agencies, however, this element was to the fore in that they were concerned with challenging the policies of the ANC government or of powerful private corporations, in relation to the supply of electricity to poor townships, for example, or the decisions of the government-established Truth and Reconciliation Committee. In that sense, several of these organisations would fit the definition of a ‘social movement’ offered by the authors of a recent overview of social welfare movements. Drawing on the work of Tilly (2004), they suggest that:
Social movements constitute a distinctive form of ‘contentious politics’— ‘contentious’ because the claims that are made will come into conflict with the interests of some other group; ‘politics’ because some appeal is made to or expected of government. Hence, the contentious politics of ‘social welfare’ are translated into the policy process of ‘state welfare’. In making claims around state welfare, social movements respond to, struggle against or bring into play the institutions of the modern state (Annetts et al., 2009, p. 8; for a discussion of social movements in post-apartheid South Africa, see also Ballard et al., 2006).

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Second, some of the placements involved students in addressing issues of violence and trauma that went beyond that typically encountered in more conventional settings. Students working with ex-combatants involved in the struggle against that regime listened to stories of comrades killed, of involvement by the clients themselves in violence towards others and, in some cases, of horrific torture at the hands of the state. As one practice teacher commented, ‘We are a traumatised nation’. How students addressed this, and its implications for social work programmes, will be considered below. Third, as noted above, these placements were designed to address the community work component of the students’ final placement. The very fact of that component can hardly fail to be remarked on by social work educators in the West, where community development approaches have largely dropped off the social work curriculum and where, outside some non-governmental organisations, the opportunities for students to develop community work skills is often very limited indeed. Finally, by definition, these agencies were secondary settings, some of which employed few or no social workers and had limited previous experience of social work. One agency, for example, whose primary remit was policy research and development in the area of sexual and reproductive health, employed only three social workers out of a staff of more than 200 and these three had come into post very recently. While the practice of placing students in non-traditional settings is increasingly common in many countries, including the UK (Bellinger, 2010), the lack of available role models posed issues for some students, as we shall see below. That said, each student had a practice teacher who was also a qualified social worker.

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Education for change: findings
The findings of this study will be presented under three headings. The first part will address the ways in which students were able to draw on their teaching and experience to make sense of both their placement setting and their role within it. The next part will address some of the specific challenges that these placements raised from the perspective of both students and practice teachers and how these were addressed. The final part will consider the extent to which students and practice teachers felt by the midpoint of the placement that it had been a useful learning experience and one worth repeating.

‘Making sense’
As noted above, while, in some respects, these placement settings shared similarities with more conventional placements, in other respects, they

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differed. In this section, we shall explore both the ways in which students were able to draw on their university teaching and previous practice experience to make sense of the social work role within these agencies and demonstrate ‘transferable skills’, and also the extent to which the placements themselves provided the students with sufficient opportunities to meet the programme learning objectives.

‘Core social work skills’
When interviewed at the midway stage, several of the students indicated that they were finding the experience of placement to be a confirming one. Their growing integration of the core social work skills of listening, observation and critical reflection underpinned by an empathic and nonjudgemental approach had allowed them to engage with people whose world was often very different from their own. According to a student working with MK ex-combatants (MK being the abbreviation used for Umkhonto We Sizwe, the armed wing of the ANC during the Apartheid struggle):
OK the type of knowledge that I found most important is the basic social work skills because you come in there, you already like for me had a picture of what MK people would be like or you know because I’ve seen them on TV but it’s not like that. Like you look at them, this woman is not even talking about trauma. You go in there you think OK maybe they are traumatised because of their, what they were involved in, maybe they were tortured during their time but then she talks about her feelings about HIV you know how she’s been stigmatised, how she can tell people. So just being there, using the basic social work skills like listening to them you know attending to them, just getting being empathic with them you know, getting an understanding of what they really want, so that has helped.

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The confidence that comes from a clear understanding of role was also evident in a comment from a second student, despite working in an agency that, in other respects, she felt had a limited grasp of the potential social work contribution:
Because someone will pick up and they will ask ‘Are you doing social work? We can see the way you are’, so the skills of attentiveness, advocating for the others, being able to listen, being able to objectively look at something critically and analyse it, not just see it at face value. So I think that these are the skills I’ve developed and I can say I implement them within my work.

Generalist/systems/ecological approaches
A number of students identified generalist, systems or ecological approaches as providing them with a framework that allowed

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them to make sense of these placement settings and agencies. One commented
Well for me, . . . the one that I use is the generalist approach, that’s the one that I use because you find that people they come with different issues and sometimes they come with interrelated issues. So when you are using the generalist approach you are open to anything that might come and then also in some instances I use the system approach because then you find that the problem that the client is bringing is related to maybe other family members, you have to look at family members and eventually get to the client. So those are the main two that I use.

Another student identified systems approaches as something that she ‘used at every level’ with a group of women in a poor rural community, while indirectly highlighting the limitations of social development approaches in a context of extreme poverty and inequality:
Well, basically the community members are desperate to integrate but they give them very little resources to try to, so most of them aren’t educated, aren’t able to go out and the South African government doesn’t have funding to give them the education that they want and to give them the support that they want and there’s a constant struggle between them, you know—what we want’ and they also don’t want just a little degree, they want something that’s worthwhile. But they’re not willing to accept the status quo and the government’s not willing to give them more, so that’s a whole conflict.

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Strengths perspective
The strengths perspective (Saleeby, 2005), which encourages workers to focus on clients’ strengths and achievements rather than on their deficits, was also identified as helpful by some students. The student cited above who was involved with ex-combatants referred to:
. . . the knowledge of social work perspectives like the strength perspective in particular because if you look at these people you, they have strength like the people like this lady I’m talking about she’s HIV positive, now she’s lost weight because she was showing me the pictures before and she was very sick before but now she is on retrovirals. You can see that, you know, it’s not just about the sickness, there is this passion that’s inside of her. She wants to do something you know, she wants to work with other people and you know, yes, so that has been very useful.

Community work
Predictably, given the nature of these placements, several students made reference to the importance of the community work skills they had been taught. In particular, mention was made of skills in planning, lobbying, advocacy, organising meetings and liaising with other organisations:

Education for Change 985 Basically my training in community work, how to manage meetings and things like that with communities, like the community work part aspect of it: how to plan, how to lobby for things for funds and resources and things like that. That has helped me because like last year I was doing a community work project where I was based so that knowledge also assisted me in what I am in now so I know what communities are, I have had first hand experience of communities.

However, several of the respondents also felt that the teaching had not prepared them sufficiently either for the realities of the communities they would be working in or for what was perceived to be the painfully slow and frustrating pace of community work—a major challenge for several that will be discussed in the next section.
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Values and ethics
A commitment to social justice was mentioned by some students as informing their work in poor communities. One expressed the view, however, that social work as currently practised in South Africa often had little to do with social justice, due to the fact that, in his view, the profession operates within an officially approved government framework (the GEAR Framework, referred to above). For a minority, the experience of the placements seemed to have had a radicalising effect in terms of their values. A student placed with a radical social movement, for example, part of whose work involved challenging electricity disconnections, now felt that people had a right to electricity:
Well, because social work also is social justice I think, in fact in this placement that’s what stands out for me because I’ve been in the community, I have seen how they are living and I think they actually do deserve electricity.

Other students saw the South African value of ubuntu as underpinning their practice:
I think most importantly the value we call ubuntu which means ‘I am a person because of other people’, so we are working together to help people so that because we are experiencing that maybe in the future we need help from someone else.

Sociological theories and political perspectives
As the above discussion indicates, students identified a range of social work frameworks, core skills and values as being helpful in making sense of their placement settings and their role within it. By contrast, despite the more political/structural nature of these placements, only one student referred explicitly to (non-specific) broader sociological and structural theories and identified himself as using an approach informed by these theories. Another student proposed a sophisticated critique of the organisation in

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which he was placed but one that drew on radical community work, rather than a political or theoretical perspective. This did not mean that these students were uncritical or atheoretical: on the contrary, most were able to give thoughtful critical analyses of the organisations in which they were placed and of the problems experienced by the people with whom they had contact. Their reluctance to engage with wider political discourses may simply reflect the fact that, like social work students elsewhere, they sometimes struggled to integrate structural theories into their practice (and, as we shall see below, these students were exposed to such theories in the course of their teaching). Conversely, in terms of political perspectives, there is no reason to assume that a generation that has come to adulthood in the post-apartheid era, and has only ever known an ANC government that has pursued neo-liberal policies for more than a decade, will necessarily share the radical views of their parents’ generation.

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The challenges
The previous section explored the ways in which students were able to draw on elements of their university teaching and previous experience to make sense of these new placements. The placements also gave rise to a number of challenges, however, which we shall discuss in this section.

‘Culture shock’
Several practice teachers referred to the ‘culture shock’ experienced by students on encountering levels of poverty or ways of social life very different from what they were used to. An aspect of that culture shock was the absolute levels of poverty that students encountered in some townships, rural areas and refugee communities. As noted above, while the end of the apartheid regime may have ended the domination of a system of oppression based on colour, the pursuit of neo-liberal policies by the ANC government since 1994 means that poverty and inequality have actually increased in this period (Bond, 2008). One of the most impoverished and most marginalised of the groups with whom they had contact was the ex-combatants (‘ex-coms’)—people who had been involved in the military struggle against apartheid. One practice teacher explained:
Some of them went into exile. When they came home, they expected a heroes’ welcome but quite the opposite was the experience. Of course the government, you know the new democracy, the new government in 1994 tried to do something and put resources into rehabilitating ex-combatants but because of the corruption the money went somewhere else or into somebody’s pockets. So here is the challenge of working with a very marginalized group of people who live in tin shacks, who barely have anything, who cannot even support their families.

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Lack of resources
The immensity of the problems experienced by groups such as the ex-coms often dwarfed the resources available to the students’ placement agencies that were attempting to support them. Several students expressed frustration at what they saw as their inability to make a difference to their clients’ lives. One talked about the challenge of ‘not helping them when they want to get that help but there is not much I can do’. Another, located within an agency whose remit was to find accommodation for asylum seekers and refugees, identified the lack of resources as the biggest challenge:
The agency says you do the assessment and then you wait for accommodation, there is nothing more you can do after that. So just having to deal with that every day, knowing that these people are sleeping on the streets and they come here every day, I tell them the same thing. Go back we will call you, go back we will call you, we are still looking for a place. That’s very challenging and every day when you wake up you just think what am I going to be faced with today? How am I going to make a difference?
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Dealing with trauma
Engaging with the emotional pain and suffering experienced by individuals as a consequence of violence or abuse is a common element of the social work role everywhere. The specific experience of South Africa in recent decades, however, meant that both the nature and the extent of the trauma experienced by the people who came into contact with these students sometimes went well beyond that likely to be encountered by students in more conventional placement settings. In particular, practice teachers and students identified dealing with clients’ experience of violence, torture and rape as a major challenge. One practice teacher referred to ‘the unpredictabilities of working with these really traumatised people’. The fact that students were carefully selected for these placements and that, in addition, at least one agency provided specific training on working with trauma meant that most felt able to deal with this level of pain. That said, a small number of students indicated that they had experienced considerable distress at being exposed to such experiences, with one student seeing the biggest challenge of the placement as ‘hearing the stories’.

Lack of community participation
A further source of frustration concerned what several students described as ‘the slow pace of community work’ and the difficulties of engaging

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local people in community action. One expressed frustration at travelling long distances to community meetings in a rural town at the weekend, only to find that no one had turned up. Another also identified lack of community participation as the biggest challenge, adding that ‘community work is not really interesting without the participation of community members’. By contrast, however, where students were able to draw on their community work teaching to make sense of their work, then they were able to retain a more positive outlook:
There’s one thing I’ve always understood about community work is that it’s a process. So everything takes time, change takes time . . . so I need to be patient and I need to give as much input as I can make sure that change comes sooner.
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Practising social work in secondary settings
In several of these placement agencies, there appeared to be a good understanding both of the role of social work and of the thinking behind these new placements. Some employed social workers, while others had previous contact with social work in one way or another. According to one agency representative:
I’ve always had a large degree of respect for social workers, particularly those that are on the progressive side of things . . . and I also have a number of friends as well as my sister who has been a lifelong social worker. So I think we were quite appreciative of the fact that we were sought out and that they thought about the [name of organisation] as opposed to the ones that would have been easier.

Several of the practice teachers also referred positively to the preplacement preparation they had received from the academic staff responsible for placing students. In some cases, however, the nature of these agencies did pose challenges for the students placed there. First, the fact that they were often NGOs working with a very clearly defined remit laid down by their funders limited the students’ scope for conducting their own independent assessments, since ‘the problem’ was already defined for them. Second, the agencies’ lack of previous knowledge of social work meant that students were sometimes allocated inappropriate work. Third, the fact that there were sometimes no social workers within these agencies meant a lack of suitable role models for the students. Fourth, these were new placements in which the social work role was less clearly defined anyway—something that would have posed a challenge for experienced workers but clearly posed an even greater challenge for final placement students. Finally, some felt that a ‘top-down’ ethos in some agencies ran counter to notions of empowering practice.

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Despite these challenges, students were, in general, positive about their placement experience. It was clear from their comments, however, that the level of support within each placement varied and some clearly struggled.

Ethical challenges
Finally, an unusual challenge faced the student placed with a social movement whose concern was with the provision of affordable (and, where possible, free) electricity to poor people living in a major township. While many of this organisation’s activities were similar to that of other campaigning organisations—holding meetings, lobbying politicians, holding demonstrations and so on—on some occasions, its members were also prepared to break the law in order to protect the rights of local people, whether through proceeding with demonstrations that had been banned or through illegally reconnecting electricity supplies. How, then, should this student position himself/herself in relation to such activities?
With the community that we are working with, the community members, five community members, were arrested because they fiddled with their [electricity] box so things like that they come up and I think of my role in this. Well I still keep that, I still say I’m maintaining my professional input into this because I know that whatever I say has to be within the boundaries of the law and everything. So I will not in any way participate in anything that is, because if they decide to have like a march or anything it needs to be a legal one if I am going to be participating in so it’s things like that. So I make sure that whatever they say they are meeting and doing whatever, everything should be within the boundaries of the law because then it compromises me as a professional and I am trying to get my degree and if I’m engaging in things that are illegal then it’s going to be a problem.

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A social work placement of a new type?
As this was a small-scale, qualitative study undertaken at the mid-point of these students’ final placement, it would be inappropriate to claim too much for these findings or to seek to generalise them too widely. It may be, for example, that some of the problems that the students identified, such as the slow pace of work, related mainly to the stage of placement rather than to the nature of the organisation or the type of work on offer. Nevertheless, there are some lessons here for those seeking to develop forms of social work education better able to equip the practitioners of the future to address the structural realities that shape the lives of clients across the globe.

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First, the importance of reflexivity. In community work in which processes of critical conscientisation are pursued, among the participants of projects as well as within the practitioner themselves, such self-reflection is vital (Freire, 1970). Reflexivity and praxis, so that the process of action and reflection becomes the strategic approach to social change efforts, are of specific importance in such placements. Second, in relation to the students’ theoretical and political understanding, the most frequently identified bodies of knowledge were community work concepts and skills, systems approaches and strengths perspectives (with trauma and action research being identified as gaps in the current teaching). These theories had the merit of allowing the students to adopt a holistic approach to their work that fitted well with the work of the agencies in which they were placed. What they did not do, however, was to provide the students with the conceptual and analytical tools to make sense of the political and economic realities of post-apartheid South Africa, not least the poverty, inequality and lack of resources that they encountered on a daily basis. Interestingly, while frequently referring to these realities, only one student made any reference to this wider political context of the work. In addition, Paulo Freire’s liberatory education and praxis approaches as well as, more recently, experiential learning around the work of Augusto Boal and Forum Theatre as a model for social justice and human rights work are features of the taught programme in this university but were not referred to by any of the students. More emphasis may need to be given to the integration of such theoretical approaches in practice. Third, while relationship skills, an awareness of self and a knowledge base that allows students to explore political and practice issues are essential, so, too, is a clarity about the role of the student within the organisation and a proper level of support. Despite the considerable preparatory work that had been undertaken with these agencies, there still seemed to be a lack of clarity on the part of some agencies about what social work students could contribute to their agencies—a factor that also added to students’ anxieties. Finally, despite these challenges and frustrations, all the students and practice teachers interviewed were clear that this was an experiment that was worth repeating—and not only in the South African context. The recognition that social and structural problems require social and structural—as well as individual—responses was a common theme across the interviews, emphasised particularly by two practice teachers, both social workers, working within a trauma project. These workers stressed the need for ‘a new paradigm’, based on a move away from individualised psychological responses to trauma and towards collective, community-based approaches:
The social work profession in general has come from a position where it was created to maintain the status quo, which is what’s happening right now within South Africa. I would really want to see it move forwards working with people, working with the people so that they are empowered, so that they have the skills to advocate for their needs so that they can do the

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Education for Change 991 work themselves and they have, you know they are able to claim space and have a voice to get their needs to help. Yes, what do we need to do that? That needs a lot of work . . .. It needs a lot of rethink, a paradigm shift.

Students were also mainly positive about the placement experience, feeling that it had deepened their understanding of the lives of the groups they were working with and had challenged their notion of social work and community work:
Well, it’s definitely changed my view of community work [laughs]. Generally, community work projects in the last three years have never been like this. I mean, my community work project last year was run at a school, whereas this to me is real community work and this is really kind of getting down and dirty, if that makes sense.
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At the same time, both students and practice teachers made a number of suggestions about how the placement experience might be made more productive in future. These included greater screening of students, given the additional demands of these placements; more teaching in the areas of understanding trauma and approaches to action research (Humphries, 2008); and greater agency preparation, particularly around the contribution that social work can make. In respect of this last point, one student who expressed frustration at the ‘top-down’ approach of the agency in which she had been placed suggested:
So if I had my way, I would be conducting community organizational work from the cleaner to the one at the top, they would come together and understand what is social work and how we intervene in what they are doing, and I think I would be a good facilitator for them [laughs].

Conclusion
In the face of the deepest crisis of global capitalism for many decades, remedial individualist – reformist social work approaches that focus on status quo maintenance, remediation and development and that fail to address issues of structural inequality are likely to be seen by many of those on the receiving end of social work as increasingly irrelevant and lacking in legitimacy. Until now, South African social work education has pursued social development curriculum imperatives and has tended to rely on formal and registered service delivery agencies as well as the state Department of Social Development for field practice experience. Due to the fact that such agencies operate within a developmental framework and a conservative neo-liberal ideological context as described previously, these placements seldom offer opportunities for structural and radical interventions, thus perpetuating approaches that are uncritical and conservative. By contrast, the experience of this small research project suggests that engaging with social movements and other progressive organisations for alternative strategies of mobilisation and social change may contribute to

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the development of a more radical discourse for social work. Social movements have been found to have a profound impact on the public sphere, problematising and politicising a wide range of social justice claims. Social mobilisation and its resultant social movements, rather than ‘representing the interests of dissident groups’, are also an effective vehicle for the attainment of democratic rights for citizens. Social work education in South Africa therefore does well to broaden the context of its field practice training opportunities to include such movements and progressive organisations.

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