Late last year, the world was left reeling in shock after Ugandan Jolly Tumuhiirwe was filmed beating, kicking and stamping on a 18-month-old child. When sentencing her, Chief Magistrate Lillian Buchan told Tumuhiirwe she had committed an “unjustifiable and inexcusable” crime.
The video footage, which prompted the case, came from a camera the child’s father, Eric Kamanzi, had installed in his home after noticing his daughter was bruised and limping. This not only made parents nervous about the people they employ in their homes, but closer to home, it reminded us of how difficult it is to find the “perfect maid”. Finding a good maid here is like looking for a needle in a haystack!
Lesedi Reatile of Gaborone hasn’t been lucky with her maid hunt. After throwing in the towel, she took her children to her mother’s house in Mmathethe village. “My twins are aged three. I will bring them to the city to start Standard one. Hopefully by then I would have found a suitable helper,” she says. Reatile travels to her home village twice a week to help with laundry, buy groceries and give her mother pocket money. “There are other relatives in the vicinity so they ease the work load off my mother. I obviously miss my children but I have no choice,” she says.
Magdelene Ofitlhile has had the same Zimbabwean maid in her employ for the past ten years, and has no qualms with her. She instead talks down employing local women as domestic helpers, calling them ‘lazy and cheeky. “The biggest mistake I made was employing a Motswana. I have had four local maids but they gave me stress. I eventually decided to hire a foreigner. I don’t have any regrets. My children love her, and she does her work diligently,” she says.
Tina Molathegi sings a different tune. She insists that it all depends on how hard you look, a bit of patience and luck. “The first time I wanted a live-in maid, I sent out word to all my family and friends. I eventually settled for an elderly woman from Molapowabojang. I figured that since she is older and mature, she would be more stable. She was also soft spoken and God-fearing, so we had something in common. It was the perfect decision. I have had her in my employ for ten years now,” she says. Although it seems like a smooth sailing arrangement, she does admit that they have disagreements sometimes. “When we disagree on something we iron out the matter as quickly as possible. Of course there is the ‘employer-employee’ relationship, but I treat her as I would an elderly relative. Our relationship is based on respect,” she says.
However, domestic workers have gripes, too. Ruthando Manyenga, a 35-year-old lady has worked as a domestic worker in different households across the country for the past decade. She says although there are good “Madams” there are also those who overwork and underpay them.
“Employers must not forget that we are humans. They need us as much as we need them. I have left work in some homes because I couldn’t cope. Some people are dirty, lazy or rude. I once had an employer who wanted me to wash everything from the dishes to their underwear. Some of them desert their children and think you are a parent now ÔÇô you spend time with the children all the time without a break, and aren’t given a chance to spend time with your own children!” she rants. The most niggling issue is being underpaid. Lesedi Motsole says some locals want to pay maids peanuts. “When you ask for P1200 when you work from 7am ÔÇô 5pm, Monday to Friday, you are told that you are mad. They want to pay us amounts like P500. What can you do with that amount? Even the law is clear that they should pay us more,” she says. The law stipulates an average rate of between P5 and P8 per hour for domestic helpers.
Manyenga says she is comfortable as she now works for “nice rich people” in the suburbs of Extension nine. “I have been here for two years now. I am happy. The couple I work for pays me well. I clean and do their laundry. I get P1600 and work from 7am until 5pm, which includes a free meal. I get the weekends off,” she says.