Maid of Honour

By Stanley Arumugam

South Africa is one of the few countries that has an abundant supply of housekeepers, maids as we know them, some called our ‘girls’ even at the mature ages of 60+. In a country of high unemployment, its easy to convince ourselves that we are doing ‘them’ a favour, by giving ‘them’ work. For sure, work makes a difference to the many desperate for some income source. Work can also be the source of indignity, abuse and discrimination.

During apartheid, most White households had the luxury of an African maid. The women who diligently cleaned houses and cared for their children, many now successful MD’s & CEO’s in the world of work. Two generations later, the cycle continues and things are no different. The children of those maids are back to their old boss families, looking for a job. The system has failed the poor and marginalised in another cycle of life.

I have empathy for maids, maybe more so because my mum was a maid to another Indian family. Her work afforded us a place to live, in their outbuilding and put food on our table. I was too young to know what work meant for my mum at the time. I like to believe she was treated kindly and she was grateful for work.

Now, I have an itinerant foreign national housekeeper that works at my place once or twice a month. When she was able to come back to work at my place after COVID restrictions, she told me how she had to be away from her young children (6 & 7 years) living in a township for three months. Her employer in a northern suburb did not want to risk their family health with her travelling in taxis. She was sad not to be with her children but grateful to have a job (as an immigrant mother).

In this Women’s Month, may we honour those that serve us showing them respect, love, dignity and paying a living wage. May we recognise our economic and social privilege and how we can use this for good.

Picture credit: https://www.groundup.org.za/…/domestic-workers-denied…/

Stanley Arumugam

August 2022

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