History and development of social work in Zimbabwe

Publication Details

Mugumbate J. R. and Bohwasi P. (2021) History and development of social work in Zimbabwe. In V. Mabvurira, A. Fahrudin and E. Mtetwa (Editors). Professional Social Work in Zimbabwe. Past, present and the future, p. 1-28. Harare: National Association of Social Workers.


From time immemorial, social problems for Africans were handled using local indigenous methods. Like many other Africans, Madzimbabwe (people of Zimbabwe) have several ways of preventing social ills and ensuring the social functionality of their families, villages and societies at large. Before colonisation, systems that grew naturally were in place to provide welfare to the vulnerable populations. Some of these systems were merged with or submerged in foreign welfare systems upon the coming of missionaries, traders and colonialists. Colonisation in the 1890s brought with it numerous upheavals, including colonial wars against imperialists. Other challenges created include dispossession and the emergency of urban centres with problems such as unemployment, prostitution, homelessness and overcrowding for black people. For the white population, problems of vagrancy, delinquency and destitution started amongst their children and youths. In response, the white settlers introduced a model of social welfare based on western values. To support this model, they hired probation officers from Britain and started the training of social welfare staff based on western curricular. Initially, the social services were directed at white settlers but later included blacks as urban social challenges multiplied. The increasing urban plight resulted in the emergence of social reformers, philanthropists and do-gooders. The most prominent of these being Mai Musodzi Chibhaga Ayema (1885-1952) and Jairos Jiri (1921-1982).

This chapter defines social work and selected concepts before discussing five phases in the development of the profession in Zimbabwe. Readers will also find information about social work training institutions, professional associations, social work journals and the future of Zimbabwean social work. Towards the end, a list of 16 prominent personalities who played a part in the development of social work and social services in Zimbabwe is provided. In writing this chapter, we revalued and devalued histories and identities, including but not limited to acknowledging the role of indigenous methods of promoting social functioning, definitions, contributors and languages. We believe this is important to make social work more relevant to our context.