Sandile Memela
Sandile Memela

Give the maid a break!

Aaaahh!!! The festive season is here. Everyone is on holiday except my sister and aunt who are helpers and domestics in privileged homes.

I can imagine everyone in a good mood. They are exchanging bear hugs and expensive gifts. They enjoy long lunches that stretch into summer nights. Let them enjoy the luxury, splendour and privilege they claim to have worked hard for. The centenary year of the ANC has been pretty good to some.

But nobody works harder than my sister and aunt. They are at it from 5.30am until 10pm every day. It’s worse during the holidays. And what do they get for that? A mere R1 250 a month! If they work during holidays or Saturday the rich families may throw in an extra R50. Imagine. Give my sister and aunt Bells, too!

There is no doubt this is a season that brings joyful moments. In fact, if we understood what we needed to do at family level to change this country, we would invite the helpers and maids to bring their families to share in the merriment. After all, we are trying to build social cohesion and a new nation.

But, no, that will not happen. They must know their place. What a missed opportunity. Can you imagine the child of the maid playing with the child of an over-paid corporate manager who has two cars in the garage? It would be wonderful for race relations, the employer and employee. It would be a Kodak moment the children would cherish for ages. Do you remember the movie, e’Lollipop?

But well, for helpers and maids like my sister and aunt, this is the perfect time for you to feel exploitation and oppression. You are denied the right to be with your family and beloved ones simply because you must serve “the haves”.

No one will really want to admit this and lots of privileged families have nice madams and baases. But nobody cares to treat a helper or maid with love and kindness despite the dog loyalty and commitment they show. It hurts so bad and tears my soul apart. Sometimes I am glad my mother — who was a maid and tea-girl throughout her life — has left this world. She died of carrying the world on her shoulders. That is what maids do.

Maybe it is the overall feeling of a well-deserved rest. You know, these privileged folks work very hard. They did not benefit anything from apartheid. Or even BEE, if you like. So, the holiday season is their once-a-year opportunity to let it all hang out. Let them enjoy themselves. You can go to any expensive restaurant in the country around this time to see who is having a good time. It is the privileged and they are mostly … white folks with a few blacks. You can imagine who are the waiters there? It can be Christmas day but they must just be there. And nobody cares how they get to work or home after knocking off at 2am because of far-into-the-morning drinking sessions. The privileged are having a good time!

It does not matter whether the waiters are black or white but they are black most of the time, probably from Zimbabwe. Give thanks to Robert Mugabe that there are waiters who do not get wages but rely on tips. The problem is that many people have allowed themselves to be conditioned into thinking that it does not matter that there helpers, maids and waiters who are still treated like slaves in this country. They are treated like sub-human beings.

The maids have come to accept it as something they have to do. They think it is okay for them to be away from their families and beloved for an extra R50 a day. What’s worse, they believe they cannot afford to displease or betray the madam and her nice family. Nice? Even if you try to talk to them about human rights they still don’t get it. Then one has to resign himself and say, well, they have a choice: to go to work or not to? Or do they? I don’t think so.

At this point, I just walk away because nobody understands or feels the pain. My own sister and aunt cannot be with the family simply because they must go and serve other people, the privileged. The silliness of this injustice, for lack of a better word, never ends.

All I wanted to say is: spare a thought for the helper, maid and waiter. They are human beings, too. They, too, deserve a holiday. There is no doubt that South African citizens want to make the dream of reconciliation and unity to work. Yes, it can! It begins with a small step.

Maybe next year, let all those who have helpers, maids and waiters consider inviting their families for a Christmas or festive lunch. Let the children of the madam jump into the same pool as those who do not know what a bath tub or shower look like. Let us reconnect at a human level through the simple act of sharing a meal. If you want to win the minds of the oppressed, you go through their stomachs. Or give the maid a lift home when she has worked a 12-hour shift.

For my mother who spent her life as a maid, she is now, hopefully, resting in peace. For my sister and aunt and the millions of other men, women and children who are condemned to do menial jobs for peanuts, “i-job i-job”, that is, work is work. Unfortunately somebody must do the dirty work!

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