Please Note: This post serves as an invitation to all interested/effected parties to join a conversation in which we discuss the decolonization of adoption in a safe, humble and respectful fashion. In particular, I extend the invitation to officials in the Department of Social Development. Please e-mail me if you would like to participate firstname.lastname@example.org
There is a major outcry about proposed amendments to our legislation on adoption in South Africa.
The long and short of it is that the Department of Social Development (DSD) is proposing that professionals who currently render adoption services – social workers, psychologists, lawyers etc – not be allowed to receive payment for these services. Only department-employed social workers will be permitted to do adoptions. But according to non-department social workers, DSD social workers are not suitably qualified to do adoptions and hence adoptions will dwindle further.
Why would the government do this; stop professionals from making a living from offering a service to children and families? The Department contends that adoption is a child protection issue and it therefore has an obligation to render this service free to all. It argues that by doing this, adoption will become more accessible to all South Africans. But then why not make adoptions done by the Department free and adoptions done privately, paid for? This is how many critical areas of South African life operate; health care, security, post to name a few. Surely there is more to this than meets the eye?
Adoption practitioners, advocates and the media have suggested that the move is designed to effectively put an end to adoption in South Africa. Private practitioners can’t derive an income from adoption therefore they will stop offering the service, and government practitioners are not qualified, so cannot offer the service. The people who will suffer the most are adoptable children and their future families. Again – why do this?
For some years now, I have advocated what I refer to as the urgent need for the “decolonization of adoption”. Simply put, adoption is a Western notion (and predominantly middle-class) that needs to be rethought and overhauled for our African context. Why do I say this?
Adoption (especially unrelated adoptions) is practised mostly by white social workers matching black children with middle-class, white parents (precisely because adoption is a widely vilified practise throughout African culture). This would all be fine on one level except for the fact that we as the adoption community of adoptive parents, practitioners etc have made little if any effort over the past quarter century to understand the intricacies of how and why adoption is repugnant in most black African cultures and how we can work together to make it relevant cross culturally and across demographics, in South Africa in 2019.
For example, in African culture connection to one’s ancestral roots is of vital importance. Should this not be considered, respected and acknowledge in adoption practise? What about language? Should it not be a requirement of cross-cultural adoption that parents learn and teach their adoptive child a language that will make them feel connected and accepted in later life? There is so much evidence now to suggest that this is vital.
Now, I am aware that this will cause some unease. I spoke this narrative of decolonization in front of a group of adoption practitioners and the tension was palpable. One of them even said of my suggestion around acknowledgement of the ancestral heritage of an adoptive child: “Over my dead body.” I get this. We feel a threat – especially on a religious level – from this kind of “decolonizing language”. But the question that must be asked is, can a concept like adoption – especially trans-racial adoption – survive in such a deeply polarised environment if we don’t have these conversations? Indeed, should it survive? Do we not have a responsibility to come together and talk about how we can do it better….in the best interests of African children?
And stories abound about black adult adoptees rebelling against their white adoptive parents because this stuff wasn’t considered let alone spoken about. One all-too-often hears stories of adoptees that speak of a lack of belonging, a lack of cultural identity and a feeling of displacement. So, we ignore it at our peril as adoptive parents and as the community at large. The argument for the department making adoption free? I guess it’s that at least we make this service available to all and end it being the virtually exclusive domain of the white middle/upper class. Can’t knock that.
Like with all things in our 25-year-old democracy, we will either do the hard work of decolonization through dialogue, generosity of hand and spirit, vulnerability, humility and love, or it will be done for us through legislation and even expropriation or violence.
We can talk about the best interests of children, but are we sure that how we are practising adoption is currently in the best interests of children? I’m not.
Let’s get together and talk it out. My NGO The Peace Agency would be glad to sponsor this dialogue/series of dialogues.
Please e-mail me if you would like to participate email@example.com
Over the 8 years that I have written this column, I have interacted with many people who have shared with me some of the incredible things they are doing to make this country a better place.I have been very struck by the passion that people have to make a difference and just how willing they are to make sacrifices big and small each day to achieve this end. Many have expressed their frustration – a frustration I share on a very deep level – at not being able to do more. To those I remind us of Mother Teresa’s often quoted: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” By far the most common way that people participate in the healing of our nation is through mentorship. This is almost always informal; we mentor our staff in the workplace, our domestic workers at home, perhaps their kids; educators mentor their learners outside of the formal learning process; religious leaders mentor their flocks; Granny’s and Grandpa’s, aunts and uncles – most of us mentor somebody; young or not so young. It seems that being a mentor to someone is very deeply rooted in our DNA; we do it almost instinctively without giving it a formal name. There are of course reasons for this; we acknowledge that without healthy and functional younger people in particular, the young themselves and society at large is at risk. So, on one level it is about survival – passing on from one to another the necessary skills to navigate the world and life well. On another level it is tied up in our instincts to care and nurture, which is why we react so viscerally when we read stories of the abuse of children; it goes against every instinct we have. But science also proves the power of mentorship. Research conducted by the mentorship program Big Brothers Big Sisters tells us that when an adult mentor spends 1 hour a week with a child for one year, that child will be 53% more likely to stay in school; 32% less likely to engage in violence and 46% less likely to use drugs. It is for this reason that I maintain that mentorship – perhaps more than any other intervention – is a critical tool for the healing of our nation. Over the years that I have been involved in mentorship, I have become convinced that everyone can mentor someone. So, for the purposes of this column I would like to broaden the definition of mentorship so each of us can get a sense of the role we can play. Traditionally, mentorship was seen as an age-based thing i.e. older people mentoring younger people. But some of my best mentors have been younger than me; for example, my dear friend Akhona Ngcobo has mentored me in the ways of Zulu culture. She is several years younger than me. So, mentorship is more about experience in one area or another, than age. The other perception we should change is that mentorship only benefits the person being mentored. This is perhaps the biggest misconception created by the fact that mentorship relationships have typically been based on an unequal power ratio. Everyone I know who has enjoyed a powerful mentor-style partnership (whether adult-to-adult or adult-to-youngster) has reported that they grew just as much from the relationship as the mentee did – if not more. This means that we should start viewing and defining mentorship differently. In South Africa we have phenomenal programs that work on this basis; co-mentorship or what some refer to as “thinking partners”. These programs create partnerships that are totally reciprocal and impact both parties equally. One of the most powerful of these is Partners for Possibility which I have mentioned before. They are leaders in this type of thinking as their program partners school principals from some of the poorest schools in South Africa with a business leader, in a mutually beneficial, generative, adult-to-adult relationship. Some of the leaders are active in business currently, others are retired; some are in small entrepreneurial ventures, others in multi-nationals. They come from different departments within businesses, but all share the same passion; to partner with a school principal in a way that facilitates their respective growth as leaders. This last week, Partners for Possibility achieved the remarkable success of being the only South African NGO to be ranked in the top 500 NGO’s in the world in the 2018 Geneva Rankings by the independent group NGO Advisor. They came in at 97 demonstrating the uniqueness and efficacy of this approach. For those of us not involved in business or schools there is our local mentorship program, Bright Stars. This assists adults and youngsters to effectively partner with one another. These youngsters may be ones that you are already in relationship with but that you need support with. You might not be in a partnership with a child currently and would like to be. The program offers comprehensive training and support to both adult and youngster for the length of your partnership – usually 1 year. I extend an invitation to all of you; make 2018 a year in which you partner with someone regardless of age. The contribution you will be making – to yourself, to them and to our nation at large – will be enormous. For more information about Partners for Possibility e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and for Bright Stars e-mail email@example.com Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency. His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter.
“Dear South Africans, why are we so gullible? Here goes Minister Angie Motshekga once again leading you by the nose.” Former University of Free State Vice-chancellor Prof Jonathan Jansen responding to the release of the 2017 Matric results.Each year at this time, we the public face up to the spectacle that has become the announcement of the Matric results; a proxy for the state of basic education in the Republic. It’s become a bit of sport. Forget the boxing day test match; its more like the Matric results tennis match with the Minister serving up ever more creative ways to spin the announcement of the Matric results, and commentators and education gurus like Prof Jansen and Stellenbosch University academic and educational economist Nic Spaull replying with winning returns to prove that she is smoking her socks. It would be rather entertaining were it not for the fact that it’s our children’s lives – and de facto the future of our country – that they are talking about. The devil is in the detail. The Minister tells us that the Matric class of 2017 achieved a 75.1% pass rate. This is true. However, the specialists will reply that this is a desperate attempt to cover up the reality of education in South Africa; there is a crisis of epidemic proportions in our basic education system and we aren’t fixing it quickly or decisively enough to deal with the knock-on consequences including unemployment, poverty and inequality. It is not stretching the point to say that the story behind the Matric results is the story of how and why we are failing to deal with this triad of evils in this country. This is why Prof Jansen is quoted as saying: “Any government that prides itself on the few that succeed and ignores the many that fall out of the school system has clearly lost its moral bearings.” He is prompted to make this statement by the fact that over 50% of children who start Grade 1 will not reach Matric; over 645 000 pupils drop out between Grades 1 and 12. What happens to these children? And just as terrifying is the fact that 50% of those who qualify for university will drop out before completing their higher education. What is causing this crisis and what can we do about it? Time and time again it is proved that schools that have strong, passionate, disciplined and principled leadership succeed often in the face of overwhelming hardship. You would be literally blown away if you were to hear the stories of school Principals I have sat and spoken with who defy all odds to produce astonishing results from their kids. But here’s the challenge – how do we create such leaders? The answers may not be ones that we want to hear because it may require something of us: We need to acknowledge that the government does not have the answer here. It is failing. Period. This means that – whilst we must hold government to account – we the citizens of this country must step up in the interests of our children and our nation at large. There are a number of ways we can do this, but I would like to focus on one in this column because it has been proved to be instrumental in fundamentally altering the future of schools and children in our country. It is simple: partner a business leader with a school Principal for a period of 1 year. This hands-on and very simple leadership development approach has been proven both locally and internationally as one of the most effective ways to transform schools and hence the basic education system. In South Africa, the NGO Partners for Possibility is acknowledged to be a leading light globally in this field. Since its launch in 2010, 684 business leaders across the full range of industries and business sizes, have partnered with school Principals for a year. This leadership development exercise at the top of a school has impacted 20 520 teachers and over 547 200 learners nationwide. This extraordinary impact has led to Partners for Possibility being a strong contender for listing in the prestigious “Top 500 NGO’s in the World” ranking due to be announced next week. I want to go at this thing hard because it is a remarkable program that changes lives – and not only the lives of the Principals, teachers and children it impacts, but also the lives of the business partners. If you are a school principal or teacher reading this; if you are a business person who wishes to play a significant role in our country and in children’s lives by using your skills in business, then Partners for Possibility should be top of your new year’s resolution list. (And incidentally, it is not a huge commitment in terms of time.) Partners for Possibility has information sessions coming up in Durban on the 25th January and in Pietermaritzburg on the 26th of January. For details contact Diane@Symphonia.net. Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency. His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter.
A few months ago, I wrote a column on the orphan crisis that is gripping South Africa in general and KwaZulu Natal in particular.This column resulted in something of a breakthrough. Readers of this blog and many in the online community heeded our call to action and the KwaZulu Natal Adoption Coalition was relaunched to address the situation of adoption in the province. Concerned parties gathered in Durban for the inaugural meeting. It was a significant moment because for the first time in many years, people concerned about the future of vulnerable children in our province got together in one room, parked their own personal agendas and asked how they could play a role in ending this crisis. More on that in a moment. A week after that meeting I received an email containing statistics that inform the use of the term ‘orphan crisis’ in South Africa. They are utterly overwhelming. Two are worth keeping in mind:
- 3 million orphans nationally; up to 1.2 million are maternal or double orphans.
- In 2016, there were 8 adoptions in KwaZulu Natal, the province with the lion’s share of 1.2 million orphans.