A Day in the Life of a South African Maid

“I wake up at 4:30am because Catherine and Stuart (not their real names) like me to serve them their tea in bed in the morning, and it takes a long time to get from Khayelitsha to Camps Bay. The first thing I do when I wake up is take a bath and get dressed. Then, I get my older children up, make them oats for breakfast and get them dressed. My son, who is 11, takes the baby, who is one-and-a-half to crèche by taxi in the morning. My other daughter helps me feed and dress her before she walks to school with her friend. I have to leave my house at 5:30am to make sure I am at work by 7:30am when they wake up. Sometimes there is traffic or strikes or the trains aren’t running properly, and I get late. I have been late twice already, and if I’m late a third time Catherine is going to give me a written warning.

When I get to work I change out of my clothes and into my uniform. The first thing I do is wash my hands, put the kettle on and get the tea tray ready. Once they have their tea and rusks in bed, I go and wake the boy. I look after two kids, a boy of three and girl who is six months. The baby will be with the night nurse. Then the night nurse goes home. I get the boy up and make him breakfast. He likes French toast and rooibos tea in the morning. He is a good boy. I give the baby porridge and dress her. Stuart goes to work and Catherine goes to the gym. While she is gone I make her bed, pick up her clothes and shoes from the floor (she is messy, that one) and put everything away. I put the baby on my back when I clean the house. Sometimes it’s hard because the boy wants me to play with him, but if the house isn’t tidy when Catherine comes home she gets cross. I am not allowed to put TV on for him because she wants me to only play with him. So that is difficult.

In the morning we go to the park. Catherine likes us to get out so that she can have some peace and quiet. I pack some food for the kids. There is a park close by, and we play there. I have a friend who goes to the same park, so we meet each other. Sometimes I worry about my girl. She doesn’t like the crèche, she misses me. She cries in the night and wants me. It’s a long day for her to be without her mother. I took her there when she was one month old because I had to go back to work. I couldn’t breastfeed her anymore. She was always sick and I think it is because I couldn’t breastfeed her. It is a long time for a baby to be without her mother, but I must work. My husband earns R3500 a month. It is not enough for us to live.

When we get home Catherine likes me to make her a salad. She won’t eat bread because she’s on a diet. Only fish and chicken every day, but she is too, too thin. Then I make lunch for the kids and we sit together in the garden and eat. In the afternoon when I put the boy down for his sleep I put the baby on my back so she can sleep and I do the ironing. Then I start with supper. I used to work in a restaurant so I know how to cook. Stuart wants to eat meat every night. I make steak or a stew or I cook chicken and vegetables. I bath the kids at 5pm. At 5:30pm I must leave to catch my bus, but sometimes Catherine asks me to iron the dress she wants to wear if she is going out. Then I get home very late. It takes me two hours to get home. My kids are already home. I leave the key with the neighbour and they let themselves into the house and do their homework. My son fetches the baby at crèche after he finishes school. I cook supper and I am very tired.

My husband comes home at 7 o clock. At the end of the month the money is finished. Then we only eat pap and vegetables. Together we earn R7000, but most of that is for school fees and food and transport. Transport is very expensive, I must give my son R20 a day and my bus costs R150 per week. My husband works on a Saturday too, so Sundays we are all together. We go to church in the morning and then we eat meat for lunch. We only eat meat on a Sunday. I am lucky for my job, and my husband is lucky. There are lots of people who are not working. Then I try to do everything right. I tidy the cupboards and I wash the curtains. Catherine gives me old toys and clothes. We are also lucky that we have our own house, but in the winter the roof leaks and the kids get sick because it is always wet. There is water on the floor and our shoes and clothes are wet. It is very cold in our house in the winter. I am looking for an old washing machine because it is difficult washing all the clothes by hand. When I get home from work I wash. It is difficult to make the clothes get dry in the winter.

I have good kids, but my girl struggles at school. Her teacher wants her to have extra lessons, but it costs money and we don’t have money. If my kids are sick it is a problem because if I don’t go to work Catherine gets very cross. If the baby has a fever she is not allowed to go to crèche. Then my son must stay home from school and take care of her. I am worried then because he is only a boy of 11. It is not so easy, no. I have a good job. They give me paid leave at Christmas, two weeks. My family is in the Eastern Cape. It is very expensive to take the whole family so every three years we take the bus to see my parents for Christmas. They are old now. I don’t know if I will see my parents again before they die.”

As told to me by Florence, 36.


134 thoughts on “A Day in the Life of a South African Maid

  1. I have a maid…. her name is Tsholofelo…..;

    I grew up with maids too – on their backs – they taught me their language – games and culture – and have been to their childrens weddings and funerals.

    Our maids were not given “special cups or cutlery” or an “outside toilet” – for me as a white person I find some parts of the article slightly offensive as I sterotypes me in a way – however maybe I feel offended because we as a past family and currently do not treat our maid like this even remotely…… we have a good relationship.

    When her daughter’s crèche called and said that her daughter broke her leg at school – I told her to go to her daughter and take the time she needs – that her job will be safe – I still paid her. She is a single mom – just like me……

    Life happens…..

    I understand that there are people like Cathrine and Stuart – you will find Cathrine and Stuarts in every industry…….

    I am not condoning what is happening to the current lady….. however….. I just don’t want the impression left that all “maid owners” are the same……..

    I have a maid……. her name is Tsholofelo.

    1. I agree, although very well written, it only portraits a certian portion of people who employ domestic help. And put a portion of people who treat their employedhelp normal and humane in a negative light

  2. I don’t have any experience of these issues however my mum, no longer with us sadly,did come from Cape Town, she loved her country but left when she married my dad, a serving soldier in 1946, she longed to go back but never made it. I have been fascinated and saddened at the same time to read of the hardships that many face and the struggles that still go on in South Africa. I do know that there are good and not so good people in all walks of life and it is gratifying to read of the way that many of the writers have expressed their sympathetic approach and treatment of their employed, I have a great hope for your future as a nation and wish Gods grace on your beautiful country, that He blesses you with a future filled with optimism and peaceful progress towards a truly integrated caring society where all can co exist in harmony. A pipe dream? Maybe but it does no harm to wish for and work for a better future, we can all do a little bit to change the world around us by being kind and considerate to our neighbour, whoever they may be and who knows it may be that in time we will see a difference, thanks for reading.

  3. I love and miss my friends and family… but I dont miss the subconscious STRESS of looking over my shoulder when I drive…activating my alarm at night…loving my view through a Trellidoor… having dinner with friends where you will hear about some ones latest “did u hear about that Crime…”. I am fortunate to experience LIFE without fear’crime’hate’corruption…and falling asleep at night without worrying if I locked my front door… and btw Quality Street(£5 vs R150) cost double in Sa to Uk!!!
    Sadly SouthAfrican

  4. It all comes down to what you consider a good life. A good point of comparison is what teens and young adults consider important. A young adult in South Africa is happy having his swimming pool and having jols with his mates on Saturdays (of course they can’t rely on public transportation in order to reach their friend’s house!). On the other hand, the typical European enjoys his city apartment next to that bar, that patisserie and that shopping street and with just 20 euros arranges to book a flight to Amsterdam or Paris or Barcelona with his friends. I think the world in general is getting more like the latter. South Africans, especially those living in the outskirts of Johannesburg and Pretoria, are the exception. That’s not necessarily bad, but people have got to understand that a one-week holiday in a resort once a year and feeling safe at night and being in the part of the world where things happen (excluding Aussies and Kiwis here) is more important than that stereotypical white South African life of the 80s. Some people even love winter and autumn and clearly defined seasons in general.

  5. This show what the importance of a good education is. Whether your are a maid or a truck driver the only way to break way from the loop is education.

  6. Hey Susan,

    I read your post today, 25th November 2015, more than two years later. Your story telling is delicate and easy to understand in spite of the complex and sensitive topic you write about. Florence is blessed in someway to have someone with your skill share her story.

    I wonder has Florence read your story about her? And, where is Florence now? Is she still working as a maid? If so, is Florence working for the same family in your blog post?

  7. Reblogged this on Are you game to change the world? and commented:
    Although we all quickly tell ourselves that “luckily I don’t treat my helper this way”, I have never considered asking our helper if she prefers to stay in with us, or travel every day…or if there is anything at her home we could help with to make her life easier…or if there is anything in her life we are interfering with and can make her life easier by changing some arrangement…

    Brilliant post, thanks Susan Hayden, hope you don’t mind if I repost this…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s