THESE women wake up at the crack of dawn to walk more than 8km to their place of work. They then take care of their madams’ children, pick up after the pets, and serve the family supper, for which they are paid the bare minimum, or less.
At the end of the day, they struggle to find a taxi home, where their own children are hungrily waiting for them.
According to the South African Domestic Services and Allied Workers’ Union, there are almost a million domestic workers in the country, most of them black. Less than 65 000 are registered with the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF).
A snap survey conducted by The Herald this week found that most domestic workers in the Bay preferred to work for white, Englishspeaking families.
They said white madams paid more than their black or Indian counterparts, who they also described as demanding.
A group of cleaners were tracked down at the KwaMagxaki bus stop on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth. It is 7.30am and they have been there for hours.
These women do not have permanent employment and never know when someone is going to need their services.
To do the washing, ironing and cleaning, they get paid between R65 and R100 a day.
Bandezwa Gxikwa, 41, said she woke up before dawn each day so that she could make it to KwaMagxaki in time. “Every day I come here and wait to be picked up by someone who is looking for a cleaner.
“I have worked for nice black families but the problem is they pay less. I appreciate any money I get because then my kids don’t have to go to bed hungry,” she said.
Nomiki Gwicama, 51, rarely gets paid more than R80 a day. “Working for black families is not good. The money is bad but we need it to survive.”
In Malabar, a predominantly Indian community, most domestic workers are unhappy.
Bridget Mvandaba, 29, recently left the employ of an Indian family because she felt “mistreated”.
When Mvandaba started working for the family, they paid her R1 000 a month to sleep in. “I had to eat their left-overs. It was not worth it so I decided to sleep at my own place. I then started working between 8am and 4.30pm and they paid me R65 a day,” she said.
“I couldn’t even afford bus fare so I had to walk to work and back. I decided to leave because the troubles were not worth the money.”
In Summerstrand, the domestics mostly work for white English-speaking families and are the happiest.
Joyce Zitha, 42, said she had been working for a white family for six years.
“I work from 8am to 3.30pm and they pay me R2 400 at the end of the month. They treat me well. I once worked for a black family and was fired for eating left-over samp.”
Nomathemba Nazo, 58, has been with her white employers for nearly 34 years.
“I work from 8am to 4pm and they pay me R2 200 a month. What I like about them is that they are also paying my UIF from their own pockets.”
Ethel Tshafane, 54, has been with her white employers for 27 years. They recently bought her a house in Walmer.
“They are such a lovely family and I raised their kids. I am able to talk to them about my problems and they do help whenever they can,” she said.
Jenny Langereis, owner of Best Placement in Walmer, said the women in her employ were less than thrilled when they were informed they would be working for an Indian, black or white Afrikaans family.
Langereis has been training domestic workers for the past nine years. She then places them at households or businesses.
“The feedback I receive is that Indians generally have bigger families, so there is more work. Black families pay significantly less. And then you still get the elderly [white] Afrikaans couples who put out a separate plate and cup for their domestic workers, who are then told to eat in the garage,” she said.
“They are also often asked to sleep in or work longer hours for the same amount of money.”
She said while the government had proposed a minimum basic salary of R1 650 a month for domestics working five days a week, what many employers failed to understand was that this was the absolute minimum.
“Employers must see this merely as a springboard. One should still consider food and transport and the amount of work each domestic is doing.”
She said on the other hand cash-strapped families were also cutting back on hired help.
Mandy Ngxadazi, the owner of Isparkle Cleaning Services, said most white employers paid their domestics on time while black people often short-changed their help.
She said she often had to negotiate a higher salary with black and Indian families, who tried to get away with paying less than the minimum wage.
“We are very strict when it comes to this. My ladies must be paid at least R11.50 or R12 an hour. If they are working overtime, they must be compensated,” she said.