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Add your voice to the conversation

Marieta Kemp – Director of Social Services for the SAVF

Lesing_studente_editMarieta Kemp, Director of Social Services for the SAVF at their Head Office in Pretoria, started with this organisation back in 1987. She has been with them for 30 years, and even though she is 61, has no plans to retire yet. There remains much to do! She maintains that the baby boomers stick to an organisation forever, not like the younger generations who change jobs frequently. Marieta is a social worker by profession, having studied at UPE.

The SAVF celebrates its 112th birthday this year! It was started as an organisation supporting dysfunctional, poverty stricken families after the Anglo Boer war. The social issues they were dealing with then, are still prevalent today, except then the issue was polio, today its HIV and TB. In those early days the men in society went to war – women on their own raised their families and supported each other. Today similar situations arise with men going to work on the mines, leaving behind women and their families. Certain social issues are always with society.

Marieta suggests that being a visionary organisation is what attributes to the SAVF its great success. She highlights a research project done by a group of American students on organisations that have been around for more than 100 years. What is it that keeps these organisations going? This research taught them lessons.

  • They stick to their core business of giving hope to the vulnerable. The organisation’s soul is caring.
  • The organisation is bigger than its individuals. Often the person becomes the face of the organisation, the known one, rather than the essence of the organisation being dominant.

The SAVF has always kept in touch with the problems or issues of the day. For example, the SAVF started off as a maternity hospital that trained nurses. Now that’s not their main purpose, but over the years they have stayed in touch with todays’ issues. The SAVF renders most of its services in small towns, within small communities. In every little town there might be an old age home or an early childhood education centre. These institutions are part of the infrastructure of the little town that keep it going. They have shifted to also spreading their services to rural, disadvantaged communities. The SAVF social workers are working actively in these areas now.

One of the greatest challenges of the SAVF is, in the opinion of Marieta, the road works in service delivery – the overwhelming expectations made upon carers, social workers and management. In SA we have great legislation but the implementation is difficult with the restraints of manpower and material resources. Another challenge is financial constraint – with only between 20 and 30 % of income coming from government subsidies, the SAVF must find the rest. The lack of manpower is a major concern, as the social workers and nurses get much higher salaries in government positions.


Marieta believes we need to network and partner to make things work. Political changes can impact on your organisation as different priorities get highlighted for political mileage. Another challenge is the apathy of the community. Many communities are centres of violence and people have become immune to violence. Organisations must make their voices heard and become the mouthpieces of these communities, be the conscience of society.

The team is very important to Marieta. She sees leadership within a team framework. The team enables the leader to do her job. Trust is central to leadership. The leader must trust her team and the team must trust their leader. The leader’s role is to inspire her team. At the SAVF they are looking at their strategic direction and Marieta feels you need to be able to convince people, make them believe that you can do things differently.

The use of technology needs to be exploited for the good. Even doing this profile interview via Skype is something that wouldn’t have been done 20 years ago.

As a leader, Marieta believes you have to have passion. She maintains she would not still be with the SAVF after 30 years if she was not passionate. She believes in what they are doing. For her, integrity and honesty is crucial for leadership.  She also believes another essential is creativity. With reduced resources you need to be creative. You need to be clever and see who in your team the creative one is and use that for the benefit of your team. Who challenges the status quo? Who asks the awkward questions? Who makes you think?

The challenge in the care sector is to find someone who doesn’t think only as a manager. They need to be a leader too. We need to look at caring in a different way, look at the person not the task. It means we have to take risks to do things differently. We mustn’t be scared of people developing beyond us.


We need to imagine what would happen if we closed certain services down. If we started from the beginning what would we do differently? People are stuck in the “same old”, the status quo. An example in the SAVF was a parenting programme they ran. As more mothers went to work, they realised they needed to close it down and do it differently. They needed to explore perhaps using the aged care centre as a multipurpose centre. They needed to use technology better. Sometimes we need external people to come in, step on toes, ask the awkward questions, and challenge us. They bring a different perspective and a different energy. It’s all about change. She sees two orders of change – firstly, moving the chairs on deck, superficial changes; the second order change can’t be taken back to where it was. This is scary as nothing will ever be the same again.

She reflects that she grew up in an era where you couldn’t fail, or make mistakes because there was no money, nor other resources. This took away creativity and the energy to try different things. She feels the organisation needs to create an enabling environment where people can take risks.

Marieta believes we need to look at the opportunities we have. The SAVF has 33 old age homes – they never have enough money or enough staff. Should we have fewer homes with better resources? Change some homes into other kinds of services, multi-purpose centres? Their parenting skills programme now has no building, no staff. It is run by volunteers who facilitate parenting training for parents.

The “light” shining in the care sector is that civil society cares for older people – the aged are not a priority of government. The NGO sector takes on this responsibility. The “darkness” in the care sector Marieta believes, is the fact that there are insufficient staff to give that personal touch – more volunteers are needed to make up for poor staff: resident ratios in homes.


Talking about collaboration, Marieta feels that organisations cannot survive without networking and partnerships. Many organisations are in survival mode, and you can’t be all things to all people. In the smaller towns organisations are dependent on all the businesses, banks, clinics etc. – they don’t work in isolation. Marieta is involved in NACOSS (National Coalition of Social Services) – currently the National Chair – and NAWONGO, a national network dealing with legal processes around subsidies, legislation etc. The SACF has been involved at different times with Proudly South African. The Council for the Aged, SAAHA.

That’s a snippet of Marieta, the CEO. Marieta the person has been married for 38 years to Charles her husband. They love the outdoors and often go camping and caravanning in a group – where they don’t talk welfare at all! She enjoys Pilates and especially enjoys singing in a church group. She has two sons and one granddaughter.

Her greatest inspiration is her mother who at 85 still leads her own choir, plays the organ every Sunday at the care centre, and takes her friends away with her on holiday in her own care. She has even cut a CD. Age doesn’t mean you stop living! You can have all the material resources but if you do not embrace life and have the right attitude, it’s all for nought. Hope inspires Marieta. If you lose hope, you’ve lost everything. Life is about possibilities!

Retirement age in the SAVF is 65 but Marieta has a few years to go and still much to do – she wants to see the financial stability of the organisation, see them develop a business arm to their core work, ensure there is effective manpower in the organisation, ensure there is valuable networking, an adequate infrastructure and responsible governance. The South African Care Forum salutes you Marieta for your contribution to the care sector – you have led an amazing organisation for many years. Congratulations! And a sincere thank you!