Social workers’ world over celebrated the international Social Work Day on 16th March 2021. This is a significant day for Social Workers because it helps them to stand together and advance a common message globally especially on issues affecting the weak and marginalized in society. The day also epitomizes the virtuous role of social work profession in advancing just, equitable and sustainable communities. This years’ celebrations are being held under the signature theme of “Ubuntu”- an African philosophical concept that denotes the interconnectedness of all people and their environment.
As part of the commemorations, the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW)-African region hosted a virtual dialogue involving its members on the concept of ‘Ubuntu amidst the COVID19 pandemic.’ During the deliberations the effect of COVID19 on social ties and Ubuntu emerged as a salient issue. Suffice to state that the “Ubuntu” theme could not have come at a better time than now. The theme is a perfect fit given the devastating effect of COVID19 on social relationships. The Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis has caused great societal upheaval and an unprecedented change to the way we live, work and socialise. The spirit of neighborliness is on the knife edge; the departed dear ones are no longer accorded a standard community-send-off as is the norm in most African communities; marriage festivities have been reduced to a handful of guests; Church fellowship is limited; and family visits have been replaced with virtual interconnectedness for those with the means and those without the means are totally isolated and excluded.
Indeed, the imposition of strict measures by African governments in the wake of the pandemic, though well intended, threatens the very fabric of African societies, as we know them today. Sociocultural norms and values that are at the center of African societies now face severe risk of disappearing into oblivion. The ban on public gatherings, for instance, in response to the pandemic has had consequent impact on family and community life and increased the possibility of fracturing relationships. From a practical perspective, the Ubuntu philosophy believes in group solidarity, which is central to the survival of African communities. A person is a person through other persons. We need other human beings in order to be human. It is therefore imperative that the fire of Ubuntu is rekindled by keeping alive the things that define us as Africans. We need to proactively and universally address the debilitating and pervasive effects of COVID19 especially on the poor and marginalized in society. This article contends that, If not properly addressed through policy, the social crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic may also deepen the valley of inequality, increase the scale of exclusion, escalate discrimination and global unemployment in the medium and long term. This therefore, requires a comprehensive-universal social protection system that protects and promotes African family values, reduces the prevalence of poverty, and enhances people’s capacity to manage and overcome the shocks occasioned by the pandemic.