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. wow this is heavy. but so true and moving. Thank you for the honesty. we live in an upside down out of balance country a lot of the time…
    i wrote a blog this morning called (on the way to work). no i am not promoting my blog ;) promise. Just i know this blog has been an open tab for a few days on my firefox. been meaning to read it. i think the title of the blog was at the back of my mind when i wrote mine.
    thank you for inspiration and honesty.

  2. Great read thanks.

    I did find all the comments humorous though as suddenly no one seems to have a maid. If you do and she starts at 8am then she too is experiencing the same thing. Suddenly we hear someone else’s story and it sounds cruel. Catherine also probably thinks she is being kind by employing Florence…

      1. Uhhh… No one I know has a maid – how far detached is your reality from mine, or most people’s? There IS injustice in the clothes we wear, the food we eat, but do not presume your life to be synonymous with other people’s. You, my friend, are from another planet.

  3. It breaks my heart. I loved the way there was no comment about the night-nurse. Thanks for your blogs, I’m new to reading them and I love the way you show life for other people.

  4. You people make me laugh so hard. You’d think Florence’s story is unique. Where have you been all your lives? Clearly not living in SA if you think this isn’t the norm for MILLIONS of our mothers and families. And I bet nearly every one of you who has written in expressing shock and horror at this terrible story also employs a domestic worker/nanny. Don’t you ever chat to your employee? So, you are all jumping up and down getting holier-than-thou about “Catherine and Stuart” and their abysmal treatment of Florence. People, get up from your keyboards, walk over to the mirror (recently dusted and polished by Miriam) and look in it. There in front of you is Catherine or perhaps Stuart. ‘Oh, but I let mine work half days and I pay her R40 per hour.’ Whoopie doop! Do you really reckon her life is much easier than Florence’s? She still spends hours commuting every day, she still lives in a slum, she still queues at the clinic when her child is sick, etc etc. This story is one we all know and I can only laugh at your faux shock. Puh -leeze. If you REALLY weren’t aware of this then a) you ought to be ashamed of yourselve and b) you’ve clearly been living with your head under a doek.

    1. p.s. Susan, after I wrote this I read your post on Internet tokoloshes and thought my comment wouldn’t appear here because it’s fairly angry. Glad you posted it. And just wanted to add my voice to your many other readers who rave about your blog. I certainly don’t agree with everything you write, but your pieces are interesting, provocative and well-written. What more can one want? Keep writing.

  5. Cassie, you are so noble. I know women in my circle including moi, (hubby passed when kids were small) who had to work very very hard for a living, be it in own business or for a company. We do travel to work, maybe not the same distance as Florence, but have the same drill with our kids. Some cant afford help, and do their own housework, as well as put in some hours of charity work. Some of us have cleaned houses ourselves, like me when I first got married and a stay-at-home-mom. It wasn’t that hard…really. I never had to put any one of my 3 babies on my back and iron or scrub or such-like, I used to put them around me where they could see me and they were fine.
    I also tried to earn extra money by working from home, often until the early hours, while cooking, cleaning, and minding the kids during the day. When I worked in the office, my boss would also get angry if I stayed off work. I had to at time fetch my 2 younger ones from school during my lunch-break, drop them home, then rush back to work. That is the plight of many women I know,worldwide and for the single mom, its worse. But Cassie, don’t blow a gasket, when you find out, we never even got paid when we did the housework, but I can just see how hard Florence’ life is, because she travels and makes tea and takes it upstairs. How dare they!

  6. I stumbled across your blog when someone posted a link on their wall on facebook. I just wanted to thank you for all the amazing pieces you have written, living away from South Africa for a couple years now all I hear is bad news about the youth league. But your pieces aren’t just a source of news, but a spark of hope to get people up and moving, not out of SA, but in SA, to love her and to get her where she needs to be.

  7. I am not sure who I am more sad for, Catherine’s kids or Florence’s kids. Both moms do not have time to spend with their own kids. Florence has no choice but Catherine does. All the money in the world cannot buy a parent’s attention and love. Sending light and Love to Florence hoping her situation will change for the better.

  8. I just want to know what Catherine does all day that she doesnt work and she needs a maid AND a night nurse.
    Love the article…Makes you wonder what it is that we can do to make things better

  9. A good read but I don’t believe this is not something that is not known. Everyone has their own limitations to work within. Just some of us obviously have a lot more to work with than Florence. I wonder what would happen if Florence told Catherine that if she wants her dress ironed if she could tell her before 5pm so that she isn’t late for her own kids. Sometimes people forget that cleaners have their own lives and they deserve respect as much as someone else.

  10. Typical spoilt white mentality always only thinking of themselves. Sorry that’s the way i feel. Wish people would just think a bit and be a bit more compassionate. Nice to be waited on hand and foot and only do what you feel like doing. Shame on the lady of the house.

  11. Hi Susan,

    Thanks for posting this. It’s something quite close to my heart. I tried to address it a few months ago by posting a post on employing domestic help, trying to get people to dig into it a little deeper, if you’re interested you can read it here: http://www.smallroar.co.za/the-art-of-finding-domestic-help-in-south-africa/

    I think the problem is multifaceted, but stems from the top down, when the government legislates a minimum, as they say, liveable wage, at R1,800 a month, anyone giving more than that sometimes feels a sense of entitlement.

    But know there are people out there who strongly oppose this, our family is one of them. Our childminder works for us 5-days a week, 8.30 – 4.30pm, she earns over R4,500 a month, we’ve found her sister a similar job with a family that expresses our views and combined they earn R9,000 and live in a small granny flat, here in Claremont, 5 minutes walk from us.

    She helps me with the kids and cleaning, I work from home, a freelancer, work-from-home Dad and most of my salary goes to helping her, not just with her basic salary, but providing her with added skills, we’d like to see her work her way out of her job, we’ve paid for here driving lessons, learners and drivers, which I’m happy to share she passed! We’ve also offered to pay for tuition if she wants to study part time.

    We’ve also just paid for her return greyhound trip and sent her off for a months break to spend time with her grandmother and brothers, she’s more than earned it, she helps take care of my kids, our most precious gifts, right?

    Now we are not super rich or elite, but we are BLESSED. We have a roof over our heads, food in our stomachs, own a refrigerator and have a bed to sleep in, if you do to, congratulations, you’re in the top 1% of the global economic wealth. 99% of all humanity live on less than R100 a day. Something to think about.

    I share this not to be pious, I’m no better than you, or anyone else, I’m trying to serve, serve our childminders needs and in some small way help restore injustices down to our fellow previous impoverished South African brothers and sisters.

    It’s not going to change the lives of all South Africans, but it’s changed her life, her families lives and her younger brother will be the first one to go to university, breaking the cycle of poverty. Each one, reach one.

    Thanks again for raising awareness, a wake up call to us all.

    1. Thank G-d for people like you. The domestic maids deserve help, kindness, and appreciation of their work and their families. What a disgusting scenario is described. Shame on the ” madam”. No insight and no heart. If I was her domestic maid, I would leave. But yes – you obviously see your maid as a human being.

  12. I employ a part-time lady who comes once a week to help with the big jobs of cleaning my house. maybe it is because I am not in the super-wealthy category, but I make breakfast, tea and lunch for my domestic employee. i do the washing myself but she helps by packing it away for me. i pick up as many toys, clothes, shoes I can to help her. i let her leave at 2:30pm. And i don’t mind if she is late because she always makes such an effort and is a happy person even though we have chatted and she doesn’t want to do this work forever. so i have made up a cv for her. i was horrified to find out that the high
    school she attended did not even have computers. so this narrows her opportunities. she is only 23 and has two boys, 5 and 18myhs.

  13. I don’t know any of anyone that expects so much from their domestic worker. There is a scale, as with everything, and this case is on the far end of the spectrum. I wonder why anyone would try and depict this woman’s story as the norm…

    1. Unfortunately this and worse is very common around the world. You would not believe how badly maids are treated in the middle east and Asia. I am currently in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I have a Filipino lady who cleans for me 1 1/2 days a week. She is lovely. She told me that when she first came to KL she was sponsored by a Chinese -Malay family. She lived in. They took her passport (a very common practice). She worked 7 days a week and long hours. They had 8 children, one was a baby. Lita was expected to look after the children and clean the house! When her contract 2 years were up she could legally leave, which of course she did. She now works for European and American expat families because she says she gets treated better and paid more. It is common for domestic workers, construction workers and palm oil workers to be treated like this here in Malaysia and other Asian countries. If you visit Dubai you must surely be aware that all those lovely sky scrapers were built by Indian migrant workers. Migrant worker or slave?

  14. Thank you for writing this. It is so important for us to view ‘the other side’ of the domestic worker reality and to think about it for a moment. Of course there are some employers who think more and demand less, but there are many who demand the same, or more and fail to consider the person who is their worker. I have been determined for many years, to write about this, but have not yet done so, so very grateful that you have!

  15. I Only feel Sorry for Catharine’s Kids, No excuse for an absent mother who can afford to be with her kids. However, If they are following the employment rules and minimum wage standards as set out by our current government; then don’t give these people Nonsense for being wealthy enough to afford a domestic worker. Rather think of the poor domestics who lost their jobs and stay-in rights because people did not want to go through the trouble of registering their Domestics for UIF and go through the IR process because Taxi’s are dangerous and don’t give a dime for working hours.
    Also don’t make this a “White Mentality Thing” You will be surprised how many “Florence’s” are enduring the same treatment or even worse in some cases from the increasing Black Middle to wealthy class citizens that are rising and rising on a daily basis. I Have respect for Florence’s Husband. At least he didn’t abandon his Kids & Wife, for the bottle or another woman.

    At our centre where we work we have a community board where Ladies are advertising Char work for R80.00 per day, Many Till staff at super markets are working for the same or even less money for more inconvenient hours and the supermarkets do not provide Lunch for them.

    My point is this, Stuart & Catherine will one come to regret not spending more time with their kids, Who knows what Stuart has to go through with his job (and with a wife like Catherine); but there are options, I work on Advert sets and Movie sets in Cape Town (for extra money in my off time) 10 Jobs a Month will earn this lady far more than what she is earning now and in many cases 2 Gourmet Meals a day. In the lean months at least she can do cleaning work. Her taxi or Bus fare will stay more or less the same. So while I feel her plight I also applaud her & her Hubby for staying true to each other & to their Church values. But just add a little ambition to your lives and you will be abundant in options.

  16. Hi again Susan. Having just discovered your blog, I just left a comment on another post, then read this one – on my 13 yr old daughter’s recommendation. Again, brilliant! Way to go. Thank you for sharing Florence’s story!

  17. Yes, Stuart and Catherine sound like unkind people who are exploiting Florence. The issue is one of economics – supply and demand. You cant force people to be kind. There will always be people like this couple.

    You cant be upset that people pay so little. There are millions of job seekers are not enough jobs. By demanding a higher wage/less hours, you are inhibiting Stuart and Catherine to contribute to the economy, which in turn will create more jobs that are higher paying.

    I know its easy to attack the couple, but it’s the wrong approach. The same goes for minimum wage. Its the wrong approach. Same thing with AMCU. Yes the mining bosses might be paying pittance compared to their salaries, but look what happens when the mines shut down? Who suffers the most?

    The point is – Florence is uneducated and has three children. Can you imagine how much better off she would be if she had fewer children?! Obviously this comes down to education.

    I feel sorry for her because she is in this situation – its not her fault, but neither is it the couples!

  18. This is not always the case.

    My family have employed our maid for 20 plus years. When she first started with us we put her into school as it was something she wanted to do. Sadly she got pregnant and quit. She has had a payrise almost every year since. She now earns more than ever but only works around 2 days a week instead of the original 5 and only has to clean my mothers little house who lives alone.
    She gets a 13th cheque plus pretty much the whole of Christmas and new year off.

    We have taught her to drive and got her her license. We have repeatedly paid off her personal debts (admittedly a source of contention as she keeps being bailed out and keeps borrowing from loan sharks) . We are now putting her kids through non private decent paid schools so that they can get a decent education and make something of their lives instead of ending up as maids gardeners etc.

    This also means the kids and her live in my mom’s house 5 days a week during term time so they have access to the internet etc and don’t have to travel in from out of town every day to get to school.

    We treat her and her family as part of our family.

  19. Interesting indeed. I dont think its aa “race” (as in colour of skin) issue but a lack of knowledge issue. I (who share the same ethnic background as my maid-helper) only became aware that my maid helper left home at 05h30 in order to make my house by 08h00 – after I had complained a few times she was late say by 30 minutes (because she made me late too waiting for her! for very a important meeting with very important people!) thereafter once I understood what it takes to get her to my work I zipped my mouth (a taxi, two trains and two 2kmx2 walks). It takes me at worst 30 min (in an air conditioned car listening to my praise & worship) to get to my desk. And today I have learnt she goes to bed at 11pm after cooking, homework & all and wakes up at 04h20 to do the same routine. The issues are complex to debate here (economic, faith, social justice, economic slavery etcc, I studied most of this in college): no doubt its a hard life, yet that is the nature of poverty at each level – we can only alleviate where we can at our level where God calls us to. The joy however, even with these situations, kids are being educated and ending up being people of ‘significance’ from what may seem like an ‘insignificant’ (yet priceless) contribution and sacrifice of mothers! – lives are changed! I do wonder though when I drive to a 1.5 hour church service on Sunday & my maid helper walks/catches a lift to a 3 hr service to hers – even though I have the best Bible exposition – with access to the best preaching in my area and beyond; how the Lord’s ear listens to the plight of all our needs – mine for a brand new set of wheels (not that I am especially now), hers for a new pair of walking shoes so she can walk the journey to come clean my home this cold winter – I wonder!, don’t you – it makes me also wonder – what should I be praying for next time I approach the throne of grace! Food for thought.

    1. Trendy ..sadly I feel you are barking up the wrong the tree here…if this God exists surely he’s treating the weak and vulnerable in a way he tells you not too?? Food for thought? I live in England and can’t afford a maid and tbh I work full time with 2 kids and manage. I do feel in the end we live now our culture is of a I want it NOW culture…a look little less did my generation no harm!! Just saying

  20. Reading Sindiwe Magona’s To my children’s children in my early teens was an eye opener in terms of life as a domestic worker. I grew up with domestic workers at home all my life – a privilege we enjoy as South Africans:) and even though I could not identify with most of what she (in the book) had to do, there were a lot of commonalities. Sad sad life. I try to be as fair and loving as I can to my employees but of course it can never be enough…

  21. Sub y..I do feel you may just be in the minority! I’m not religious..My God is the sun, but I do practice the words, Love thy neighbour, etc.

  22. I am a 62yr old South African expat living in McKinney, Texas USA (suburb of Dallas) . I have been in the states for 13 yrs. I love your blog, Susan. I identify with so much and have often wished that I could write as eloquently as you on some of the various subjects you address. Many are so close to my heart and I know how controversial these issues can be. It is good to read your opinions and also the replies of so many different people. I will add my opinion later. It will take a fair amount of space :) thanks for the good reads.

  23. good on u florence. yr boss sounds a b..ch though. i treated my maids with respect i wouldnt even ask them to make me toast

  24. I know of too many “ladies” in SA who are like this or thinly veneered to be “different”. There are no excuses for the fact that there is an abundance of labour in South Africa which allows this or a version of this to be the norm and socially accepted. Living outside of SA it now costs us the same to have a cleaner for a few hours a week to a full time domestic in SA, but that only works in a country with a labour shortage. So which is the better option – well that raises an old debate …. Ultimately you need to pay your domestic a wage you are not ashamed of and remember that they have the same issues in life that you do (you don’t like to be taken for granted so don’t do that to others, even if you think you are a princess).

  25. Your post left me in tears God bless you and South Africa I cannot wait to move back home to be with family and friends,I have been outside lived in the USA for three years,UK for one year and now in the MIddle east and I can surely say there will never be any place like home! P.S nothing has more flavor

  26. I hope people can remain objective when they read, including those living overseas. God forbid they think that all south Africans treat their domestic workers in the same way. I know personally of many people who treat their domestic workers like part of the family, with respect and are paid a decent wage. I agree with the travel distances etc, but I also believe that the story is a bit exaggerated in making people believe that all domestic workers are treated in the same way. Could be the ultra rich though, after all she’s working in camps Bay, where the average south African could only dream of living.

  27. Having just read the life of a maid in South Africa makes me glad we left 24 years ago. We didn’t leave because we were scared, we left because of the tragic unfairness of this beautiful country of ours. We have had our hardships selling up and starting our lives again in a cold unfriendly Toronto, but we have adapted, fortunately with 2 of our 3 kids living here too. We live in a fair & just society, where people of all nationalities live learn, play & work together in harmony. Where everyone has the same access to health care, & all the other facilities the city has to offer. Our grandchildren have no understanding of racism, have friends of every colour & this is what it is all about, living fairly and in harmony.
    I of course had my Beauty, who did everything for me. We were both sad when we had to leave, but we left her with a house of her own, & still send her money as she cannot work any longer.
    It really isn’t that hard to look after oneself! You learn quickly to only buy non iron stuff. I have never owned an iron! These things are unnecessary for you we’ll being!!
    The only thing I really miss are my dearest friends & family!

  28. Sylvia thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and you are one very kind person..I do hope you settle in your new home and live your life to the max ! I do feel that as long as you are surrounded by a loving family you can live anywhere on this planet and cherish your memories!

  29. Sylvia, I feel so very much the same as you and left for very much the same reason you stated with a few added reasons. We left 14 yrs ago and live in the states. We settled in Texas. Not everything here is exactly equal, but compared to SA, for all intents and purposes it is. There is equal opportunity for all, wages are so better, and there is not the type of poverty you ” constantly see, in your face” as you do in SA.

  30. Oh I would love to sit in the park and chat to a friend during working hours, but I have to sit in meetings all day.

  31. Hmm, as a South African… living in South Africa, employing a domestic worker, Florence’s is story is undoubtably true, but I would say that it is not the norm. In a lot of cases domestic workers choose to ‘live-in’ to save travelling cost and time, or if they have small children, ‘live-out’… and most opt to work close to their homes so that their travelling is around a half an hour. I do think that the old colonial slave type environment that Florence is experiencing is the exception. Nobody I know, treats their staff in this manner and while it is still a sad state of affairs that there is a great divide, the general population has a heart to help. We have a genuine situation of a large population of unskilled people which is going to take decades to rectify. There are many private initiatives to try and help people gain additional skills while working as domestic workers. While those sort of things wont solve the problem every bit does help and it is time people stopped focusing only on the bad. We have a colourful country made up of many types of people… some good some bad. In SA we are just a little more diverse than most and some of us believe that together we can build a beautiful country. Injustice happens all over the world.

  32. At the end of the day we all have choices to make. It is “Catherine’s” choice to employ a nanny/ housekeeper/ night nurse and it is Florence’s choice to work for them (she can work for someone else closer to home with different hours) It is my choice to take my baby to school every day, commute to work and earn a salary. I wanted a car, and I pay for his crèche etc. but if I decided to stay home and raise him myself, school fees, my car installment and fuel costs would fall away which might break even with my salary? At the end of the day Florence’s story is the same as every typical working mom’s story. It’s just the finer details that differ. I’m still glad I read it though, thanks for posting! :) Makes me feel less alone!

  33. what more do you want Catherine and Stuart to do? They pay a market related salary and she is not her slave, she is free to seek better employment elsewhere, just like I am. Just because your situation is tough and you have a tough job doesn’t make you helpless without choices. If Catherine and Stuart are bad bosses. leave. Work elsewhere. Or be gratefull you have a job, do it with gusto and enthusiasm and discuss problems with your employers internally instead of telling what you make out to be such a sad story to the world. Just because your job description is domestic work that doesn’t automatically make you a charity case. I refuse to feel guilty and nobody should for providing employment to unschooled labourers and expecting a good service to be provided. Professionalism is key. I am my domestic workers employer and she is my employee nothing more nothing less. Why would anybody expect more? I could put my story of hardship and strife in a blog as we’ll and seek sympathy but I don’t as I deem it unprofessional.

  34. There is so much injustice in this world. It would be great if everyone was paid enough to live well and all children were educated and had enough food. However, we are where we are. Everyone, irrespective of colour, creed religion deserves be treated with respect. When hiring a domestic we somehow seem to take on the family too and that becomes our charity.

  35. I am so sad for her and every domestic worker in SA. in the UK we pay 25- 35 pounds an hour for a cleaner and they do not look after the kids either – I wish people who have domestic workers also covered school fees or such – that would make life easier – it isnt fair hat her children suffer to raise someone elses who is evidently lazy as!

    1. Nobody pays their cleaner £25 to £35 in the UK. Absolute rot. Cleaners and nannies earn the same – about £10 an hour and cost slightly more if you are paying their tax too. Still a lot when translated into rands – but that way madness lies.

    2. Hi Katie I’m not sure where you live in the UK but the going rate in the south east is £10 an hour!!! However I agree for this they are not also baby minding..! Most working moms here sends their kids to nursery school at enormous fees but I’m old fashioned and enjoy bringing up my own kids and saving for those things we need…sadly we live in a ‘I want it NOW culture’ to the detriment of our kids!! Well everyone to their own I guess but I have this wish I’d only moms world be at home when their kids become adolescents as it’s such an important time of life but sadly these ladies who have to be domestic helpers won’t have that choice …society is forever changing for the better?????

  36. I had a maid , she lived in a room that I now rent for over R3000. She lived with her son and her husband in my cottage. I paid for nursery school extra lessons clothes bicycles most things, until they left when he was 15, after he had stolen more than R500 000 over the years,. crashed my car along with all the other damage he caused. Every time I left the house he would come inside and raid my room looking for money. He also stole my kruger rands. Being responsible I send him for counselling and let him work at the police station for a month. When she resigned I gave her 3 months pay. She went to a lawyer demanding more money for her service over 18 years. Today I do my own housework. I have privacy I can leave jewellery money what ever I like anywhere and never worry. It’s a new freedom. Bonus I collect rental for her room my elect is significantly reduced and I save her salary. That R10 000 is now buying me a flat that gives me another income. I will never have a maid again.

  37. There is no way this is true. What normal working middle class family gets up @ 7.30am and expect tea served to them!!!!! I have a maid. She arrives @ 7.30 am but if she’s late I don’t mind. By the time she is here I have gone for a run, made the kids breakfasts and packed the school lunches and they are already at school. She works till 3pm and is given a cooked meal ( made by me) most days. We pay her any overtime and always give her a lift if we can. This is a highly unusual working situation that you’ve described. Majority of my friends really look after their maids well. Integrating them into the family. From next year I’m even paying for my maids kid to go to school! Please find more positive stories! You have found the one ‘unique’ story out of thousands and is not a true reflection.

    1. I’m sure you are very kind to your mother’s little helper and this reflection is one of truth I’m sure but nevertheless some not all these amazing ladies are and will always be exploited ! There by the grace of your god go I ….

  38. my sister and I were raised by three Women Sarah , Maggie and Florence, I wouldn’t be who I am today if if were not for those three women. Sarah was already old and should have retired years before – as a child I never realised but my late dad did. He gave Sarah a small pension when she left to go back to the Transkei , Maggie wasn’t really allowed to work in Primrose where we were because she was from Hamanskraal , so when restrictions got tight and Maggie went back to Hamanskraal , Maggie taught me how to look after sick people ( when my Granny was ill) & how to cook and was always patient and helped me with my homework. Florence worked for us when we moved to Pretoria , it was a bad time in my life then, was not long after my Dad passed away , I was 14 and struggling to cope and a bit of a handful , My mom worked her backside off , long hours to make ends meet and my Gran lived with us. Florence gave me guidance , friendship , love and support and got me through some really rough times.When I got married in 1990 Florence was a guest at my wedding , not there to work or whatever but as my guest , she helped my mom cater my wedding. I am sure there were voices raised in objection behind hands etc. but I didn’t give a toss. Florence worked until 3pm because it took her a long time to get home – not all domestic workers were treated with disrespect , I would never expect anyone to work in-humane hours without adequate pay and compensation ever. I wouldn’t work that way

  39. haha ok lets get this straight…these Families that employ the maid are seriously in the minority (i mean who can afford a night maid AND one that costs R3500 a month) and we had a maid when we lived in SA ….but now i live in Germany and it would be heaven to have someone that cleans and Cooks and Irons and takes care of the Kids.
    but right now i also only earn enough to pay the rent and eat.but somehow i decided to have traded weather and freindliness for personal safety and security.which i never thought were important until i am here.

  40. I read this and my first reaction was ‘shame poor maid’. When I lived in SA I also had a maid who looked after my children. She also had to leave her children so that she could work for me.

    But then after thinking about this I realise what is so different to the maid and me? I also get up early in the morning, I also have to prepare my children for school, I also have to leave my children with someone else. I also have to work and also sometimes not for an understanding boss. I am also given a warning if I am continuueously late or do not turn up. The crux of the whole story is if you don’t work you don’t earn, if you don’t earn you live hard.

    I have now been living outside South Africa for 14 years. I see women who work full time don’t have the luxury of a maid and hey they survive.

    To me it does not matter whether you are a maid or a CEO of a company if you are a mother you will do what you have to do to give your children the best.

    Stop trying to make out that life for black people in South Africa is SO hard and unfair! Most of them are happier than what you think! It’s people like you who are actually putting them down by writing articles like this. Florence has a normal life, nothing hard there, they got jobs, 3 kids, by the sound of it a good husband and roof over their heads. There are millions of people in the world that have far less. Think and wrote about them instead :-)

    1. Kathy, this comment you made has been bothering me for days, but responding properly will mean writing a missive and I don’t have the energy to take on each of these battles. All I will say is, please – read books. Educate yourself. If you ever come back here, visit the Robben Island museum and the District Six Museum. Read ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ and the story of Steve Biko. You need to know this stuff, it’s really, really important. Until we can take responsibility for our past and get out of this state of denial we have learnt nothing.

  41. isikhumbanyathi. It’s a bit like those who can’t do, teach. Those who can’t or aren’t able to make a difference leave SA

  42. I love the way you write.its simple and your view on issues is so well put..been reading them almost everyday since I saw a link shared by a friend on fb three days ago on South African expats!!! I loved it,cause I could so relate having lived in New Zealand for 6 years and I know am coming home soon.

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