The World of EAP

EAP and EAPA Flourishing in South Africa

By John Maynard, PhD, CEAP

EAPA-South Africa is one of EAPA’s most successful international branches. With eight local chapters of its own, EAPA-SA has members throughout South Africa, holds an annual conference that draws close to 400 delegates, and is widely recognized as the national voice of the EA profession. With the support of the branch and its leadership, along with both government and private sector initiatives, the EA field in South Africa today is growing in size, increasing in professionalism, and catalyzing the growth of EAP in other African nations. 

As in the United States, EAPs in South Africa were born from a merging of services focused on occupational alcoholism, industrial safety, and human resources. In the late 1970s, several multinational companies expanded corporate alcohol policies to their facilities in South Africa. In the early 1980s, the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (SANCA) launched efforts to support EA services and consultations in workplaces.

On a parallel track, in 1983, the South African Chamber of Mines (the nation’s largest employer) appointed a consultant to study the feasibility of EAPs to support safety efforts in the mining industry. This milestone study endorsed the value of EAPs, and in 1986, the Chamber of Mines established the first of an eventual seven counseling centers, all of which remain in operation today. 

Also in the 1980s, the Institute for Personnel Management set up a National Committee for EAP. In 1997, this committee affiliated with EAPA and formally became the EAPA-South Africa Chapter and, later, the EAPA-SA Branch.

Meanwhile, the South African Department of Public Service and Administration mandated the establishment of EAPs in all government departments. In the last 20 years, the EA profession has grown significantly to the point where the vast majority of large employers provide EA services, usually through external contracts. Even smaller employers are adding EAPs at a brisk pace.

Effect of Apartheid on EAP
Apartheid, in which racial groups were divided and kept apart by law, was official government policy in South Africa from 1948-1994. Since the apartheid system officially ended, both blacks and whites have shared equal rights under the law. However, the economic disparity that existed during apartheid has persisted. The South African census in 2012 found that the average black family earned just one-sixth as much as the average white family.

The impact of apartheid on early EAPs was significant. Services and resources during apartheid were available mostly only to white employees and families.  

The landmark Chamber of Mines feasibility study was also hampered by an apartheid-related lack of cooperation from labor unions with respect to EAP goals. Nevertheless, the counseling centers created in response to the study were made accessible to all mine workers regardless of race. When these centers eventually de-affiliated from the Chamber of Mines, their non-racially based services became available to all industries, not just mining. This represented a major step forward for EAPs and stimulated the creation of other independent EA service providers.

A related legacy of apartheid was the historical lack of treatment facilities and helping resources available to non-whites. Although facilities are now integrated and available to all races, the number of resources still has not caught up with the backlog of need. The continuing economic disparity between racial groups aggravates the lack of access to help for many employees.

Another, perhaps less obvious, effect of apartheid was its influence on the model of treatment and intervention offered in South Africa. Because the early emphasis was to serve whites, a treatment model largely based on US and European ideals took hold and continues today. For many non-white South Africans, this model fails to sufficiently incorporate and address traditional cultural concepts of spirituality, such as the important role of ancestors.  

Fortunately, cultural sensitivity and awareness is becoming a growing strength of the EAP community, as well as the treatment sector, and even healthcare in general. EAPA-SA is a leader in this effort.

The Challenge of HIV/AIDS
South Africa is believed to have more people with HIV/AIDS than any other country in the world. A United Nations report in 2016 estimated a prevalence rate of 19.2% among South Africa’s adult population. The HIV-positive rate was estimated in 2008 to be 45 times higher for black South Africans than for whites.

The sheer magnitude of the HIV/AIDS issue has led to significant government and industry attention. Legislation mandates that employers maintain HIV/AIDS workplace policies emphasizing awareness, prevention, and in some cases, intervention. These policies are often independent of and entirely separate from EAP policies and programs.

Recognizing that HIV/AIDS is never an isolated issue and is often the cause and/or result of other psychosocial issues, the hope for the future is that HIV/AIDS programs can be integrated into South African EAPs. In addition to eliminating inefficiencies and overlapping services, such integration could also bring greater administrative infrastructure, monitoring, and evaluation to the HIV/AIDS efforts.

Opportunity Through Cultural Sensitivity
As in other countries, technological innovations are now making it possible to provide EA services to people in more remote and varied settings in South Africa. With this expanded reach comes an increasing awareness of the need for a more culturally sensitive design and operation of EAPs.  

With eleven official languages, a history of racial and economic division, and a wide variety of ethnic and cultural subpopulations, South Africa has one of the most diverse workforces in the world. Reflecting this diversity, EAPs in South Africa are emphasizing multi-lingual services, adding staff and network providers from the main cultural and ethnic groups, and incorporating culturally-specific resources to address the needs of particular populations.  

Let’s Continue the Discussion
My thanks to Professor Lourie Terblanche of the University of Pretoria; Dr. Pravesh Bhoodram of the South Africa Department of Correctional Services; Mr. Tinyiko Godfrey Chabalala, President of EAPA-SA; and members of the EAPA-SA Board for taking the time to answer my questions and provide helpful background information as I was preparing this column. 

Let’s continue the discussion of EAP in South Africa! More in-depth information is available from EAPA-SA, and of course, you’re welcome to contact me directly anytime or to post your feedback, questions, or suggestions on EAPA’s LinkedIn group.  

Dr. John Maynard served as CEO of EAPA from 2004 through 2015. Prior to that, he was President of SPIRE Health Consultants, Inc., a global consulting firm specializing in EA strategic planning, program design, and quality improvement. In both roles, he had the opportunity to observe, meet, and exchange ideas with EA professionals in countries around the world. He currently accepts speaking engagements and consulting projects where he can make a positive difference. He can be reached at