• Deidré van Rooyen Centre for Development Support, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa.



Although the Department of Health has been using community health workers since 1994 (Friedman, 2002), it was not until 2003 that the South African government introduced the Community Development Workers Initiative (Department of Provincial and Local Government [DPLG], 2005). The primary aim of Community Development Workers is to maintain direct contact with people where they live and to assist in developing a community/people-centred drive (DPLG, 2005:13). The introduction of community development workers is an initiative stemming from the Office of the President. The main vision for the community development workers is captured in President Thabo Mbeki’s State of the Nation Address in February 2003, when he stated that “government will create a public service echelon of multi-skilled Community Development Workers who will maintain direct contact with the people where these masses live. We are determined to ensure that government goes to the people so that we sharply improve the quality of the outcomes of public expenditures intended to raise the standards of living of our people” (Baaitjies & Hinstra, 2005:10; DPLG, 2004). The initiative is viewed as contributing to a removal of the “development deadlock”, strengthening the “democratic social contract”, advocating for an organised voice for the poor, improving the government-community network and contributing to “joined up” government. According to this initiative, most electoral wards should have a community development worker. Although the current documentation provides a fairly good overview of what is expected of these community development workers, the question is what one can learn from international experience in this regard. Interestingly, South African academic literature has been over-supplied with contributions focusing on the international experience in respect of community developmental policies during apartheid and the early 1990s (Cruse, 1997; Finger, 1999; Friedman, 2002; Frontiers, 2002; Holloway, Lee & McConkey, 1999; Makan, 1997). However, lately there has been a decrease in papers focusing on this debate. Also, none of the above-mentioned papers has focused on international experience in respect of community-based workers. Considering the government of South Africa’s introduction of community development workers and initiatives such as those involving community-based workers, the question is: what can we learn from international experience that we can apply in South Africa? These lessons from best practices across the world will surely be able to inform implementation, policy and legislation in developing the community development worker approach in South Africa


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