A Day In The Life Of A Maid In Camps Bay South Africa – Wake Up At 4:30AM!  

July 21, 2017

“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 the 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 R3 500 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 R7 000, 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 Susan Hayden

Source: The Daily Vox

Susan Hayden writes for Cosmopolitan, Shape, Oprah, Marie Claire, Mamamia and the Sunday Times. She also reviews restaurants and is completing her third book about wine.  This piece was originally published on her blog, The Disco Pants Blog.

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  1. Liz Thebus 21 July, 2017, 18:32

    True. 54yrs ago,my Mom used to arrive home at 8.30pm after she did the dinner dishes. She left in the morning to get the 5.45am train to serve breakfast from 7. She worked from Monday to Sunday. She got half day off on Friday. My Mom did everything including that home’s shopping. The madam did not even discard her own ST’s. She left it on the side of the bath. I saw it and asked my mom if madam cut herself. My mother earned a pittance which kept us alive. It’s a new South Africa but for most black people it’s still the same.

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  2. Nicole Gibbons-van Deventer 24 July, 2017, 00:45

    I read the whole story, First off, there are schools that one does not pay school fees, second she has a husband and they are both working, they also have there own home and she has all her kids living with her.. Now let me tell you my story I am a white South African married women of 3 kids, for three years my hubby could not find a permanent job, as a result we where evicted from our home and had to live in a cabin that had no hot water no bath or shower we had to wash our selves in a bucket but praise God we had electricity, we had no form of income, I at age 32 was diagnosed with a cyst on the right frontal lobe of my brain which causes me to fit and could no longer work, as a result my family was split up and my middle child had to go live with family members,My husband sent out 100’s of CV lost count, would go for interviews which was always difficult as the only money coming in was my grant money which was very little, My husband would have to ask use other people computers to and there internet just so he could post his CV, then when he was called for interviews it was hard to find the money to go, but Praise God some how HE would provide away, sometime my hubby would have to miss the interview because we did not have the money for transport.In the 3 years my hubby was with out a permanent job he would offer his IT skills in change for food in and around the area we where living, he washed people windows, did some IT work, did gardens etc just to put food on the table. People where judgemental rude and very nasty at times to him.It was very hard. while we where going through this very difficult time, all our friends could not have been bothered with us as we had nothing. Now we are sober living people never drank or used any drugs. I lost everything I owned because i had to sell my stuff just to put food on the table, my furniture, even the clothes off my back, as we are not beggars, once everything was gone my hubby would walk door to door offering his services in exchange for food or very little money people would make assumptions that we must be drug addicts as we had nothing, NO NO we lost everything due to my hubby not being able to find work in this beautiful country.because i had to sell everything just to put food on my table.But every month no matter what was given to me I shared what I got with anyone else who also needed.my monthly income at that stage was just over R1000.00 which i had to feed a family of four as my older son and daughter where still living with me. I do get that this maid life is hard, but praise God both her and her husband have employment, praise God that all her kids are still living with her and her family have not had to split up in any way, praise God that even though R7000 is not a lot of money its better than nothing, Praise God that they have there own home and are not even having to rent. Praise God that even though they only eat meat on a sunday they still get to choose which meat they will be eating on that sunday after church and they have food during the week. My family have gone through a lot worse and this.This is the first time I have given my story.I do hope that this brings some light into some peoples lives that are far harder. Be grateful for what you have I know I am even though I had a cabin roof over my head with no hot water no shower or bath, had to sell everything I own just to put food on my table I am grateful that I was at least able to do that, and that my hubby was willing to put his pride in his pocket and never begged, but offered what he could do in exchange for food for his family. God bless you all.

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    • Jacques 25 July, 2017, 07:10

      While I sympathise with your very sad situation, Nicola, this is not a pity contest. We’re not meant to compare and then only commiserate with those who have it the worst. Her story is a valuable insight into the lives of the often “anonymous” people who cook and clean for privileged South Africans. And it is a reminder of just how callous and entitled some people go through life. It’s not meant to get the prize for the most harrowing ordeal of anyone in South Africa.

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      • Jacques 25 July, 2017, 08:09

        Sorry, I meant Nicole, not Nicola.

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      • Eluzabeth 26 July, 2017, 07:38

        I agree with Jacques it’s not a pity context. Also feel sorry for Nicola but it’s not Nicolas story. Many have to get up at 4 am and it’s not their faults if buses and trains on strike and they can’t get to work on time . Let the people make their own tea ! I do feel sorry for mothers with children who have to get up at 4 am to be at work at 7. They are also human . Some people have no regard for others , Be a bit humane .Coming from a long distance in the Dark just to make tea………… if they lived on the premises ok, but just think a bit !!!!!!!!
        Have some empathy .

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      • Ron Sabelo Luvi 27 July, 2017, 19:04

        Well said Jacques, I trully agree with all you have said. We South Africans are always so quick to pull race cards and socio-pity contests. This woman’s story is very touching and provides a clear dichotomy between those that have and those that do not have, this would include the treatment thereof.We still have a long way to go as people. I am one that believes we have all grown up in homes where we have been taught being selfless transcends all boundries and brings pride and joy – today that is called UBUNTU and is tatooed in all of us South Africans. Maybe it is time put that analogy to some good use. There are a lot of these ladies, most elderly women. I board the bus to and fro work with them. I in the past often asked myself why do they continue working beyond the retirement age? This story sheds light to my question. I have often been surprised by their dedication to prayer and praise worshipinga whilst on their way to work, us youngsters often get irritated by their singing of church hyms and songs for we take for granted the belief that the God they praise helps them have faith that their struggle will yield satisfaction in the end of the month albeit temporal but there is indeed joy at the end of each harvest. For their actions puts food on the table, clothes their kids even at the cost of family life and love. I once challanged a “white” colleage(and I am using “white” loosely in this context) who had been raised by a “black” woman (again used loosely) to tell me how it was like to be raised and cared for by his black nanny and I found similarities to how I was raised by my nanny. Yes I am black and may be considered priviledged in this context but when I was younger I related more to my nanny than I did with my parents for most of the day they were at work. I felt the love of a nanny and perhaps having learnt this story it is time that we who have been raised by these women gave back to their kids for time lost with their parents. We need to donate reading materials, clothes, food – give a helping hand, help them complete their homework and too feel the love of somebody dispite the absent parents. We were fortunate to recieve the love and care meant for them when our very own were not present when we were toddlers.

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      • capeflatsgirlza 28 July, 2017, 04:48

        You hit the nail on the head.

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    • Richard Cochrane 25 July, 2017, 12:37

      I agree with Jacques – your own story is a sad one but yours is not an experience that represents very many (white) people and you can’t use it to invalidate this maids experience that does really represent very many black people.

      It’s true that God is able to (and does) provide for everyone who depends on Him, regardless of whether they are rich or poor, in easy times or in hard times. And it is helpful to remind oneself of all that God has provided. But the picture is incomplete if you don’t recognise that many people don’t handle hardship in the same way and that the deck of cards some people get may include doozies that you’ve not yet had to endure. By God’s grace, I’ve never had to suffer the loss of a child or spouse but I understand that it’s really difficult and it’s helpful to humbly accept that I don’t know what it’s like in someone elses shoes. I don’t know this maid and it’s well possible that there’s “another side” to some of these points but it’s helpful to reserve judgement at all, or at least enough is known to make an informed judgement.

      Your own hardship should help you to be more sympathetic to other people in tough situations, not less sympathetic – otherwise, what have you learned?

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  3. vzandria 28 July, 2017, 05:19

    Our country currently has a 45% unemployment rate. Now yes it sucks to not earn a lot or have a lot of time with your family but I can promise you now a job is better than no job. Painting her employers as these opressors is not the way to go. Yes we can up the rate but people cant afford much more these days. I know a lot of families that would rather do things themselves because they cant afford a cleaner, gardener ens. I think the goverment needs to look at this, unemployment vs low rates. Its bad that we find ourselves in this situation but can the goverment afford more welfare receivers? We need to look at a program that gets people independant and off of welfare. We here economic reformation but it shouldnt be pointed at 8% of the country being impovrished so that the rest can get richer because no that money doesnt go to the citizens it goes to the top guys. We need to cut costs and look at growth. Painting employers in a bad light is not the way to growth.

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