NEWS & ANALYSIS

Has Covid done in domestic service?

David Bullard says he doubts that many of the jobs lost in this sector will ever be recovered

OUT TO LUNCH

My late mother used to have a woman who “did for her" back in the 1970’s. This was the polite term used in the pre politically correct era to describe someone who used to come and clean your house in return for money. Even back then the terms ‘cleaning woman’ or ‘char’ were considered disrespectful unless you happened to be an Arab family in Knightsbridge exploiting a poor Filipino. Nobody would want to argue with an Arab in those days, particularly as they were such good customers of the UK armaments industry.

The woman who ‘did for us’ came from a neighbouring village in Suffolk and became a firm family friend, even invited to family weddings. There was no question of class distinction or of wage slavery as far as this relationship was concerned. My mother had a club foot and found it painful to get round the house, and she had three children to look after. Evelyn was retired and was obviously delighted to earn a few quid extra so was quite happy to answer the advertisement in the parish magazine.

Evidently my mother had not been paying much attention to the popular TV series ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ because at 1pm sharp she and Evelyn would take a break for a glass of South African sherry and a Players No 6 and would catch up on the respective village gossip.

Interesting topics such as what was the farmer planning to plant in the top field and why were the new people in the cottage at the bottom of the hill so unwilling to come to the amateur Gilbert and Sullivan performances at the church hall. Every year the wages rose in line with inflation plus some and as an example of good industrial relations my mother and Evelyn could have taught British Leyland a trick or two.

In South Africa the relationship between domestic worker and ‘madam’ is fraught with all sorts of difficulties, both bureaucratic and racial. Firstly, there is the registration for UIF which you know, as an employer, the domestic is never likely to see. You can’t add the UIF deduction to the wages so it’s an extra expense. Then there is the law which now dictates what you should be paying someone to clean your home.

Nobody I know has ever paid just the minimum recommended wage. In fact, most of my friends over the years have helped educate the children of their domestic workers or helped them build their own homes on land they can never have title to because it is ‘owned’ by the local chief. Then there are the extras one is expected to provide such as acting as lender of last resort or providing emergency medical care.

When we lived in Johannesburg my domestic worker was suffering from a very painful abscess of the tooth so we whisked her off to the local dentist who examined her and initially prescribed painkillers which we bought at the pharmacy. Two days later I found the same domestic with a friend of hers holding a pair of pliers from my toolkit. The white man’s muti didn’t seem to have done the trick so an African solution was called for. We managed to dissuade her from self surgery and whisked her back to the dentist once again. A few days later she was fine and still had all her teeth.

When we moved to the Western Cape we employed a domestic worker for a half day each week. She was a delightful Zambian lady, hard working, always cheerful and with a great sense of humour. We only employed her because some neighbours were emigrating and wanted to make sure she still had a job. Some whiteys are funny like that. So, while we didn’t really need any home help our post-colonial guilt complex kicked in and we employed her.

When COVID lockdown arrived last March she obviously couldn’t come so like any decent employer we continued to pay her full salary for eight months plus a lump sum to help her get by. The problem now is, having survived for almost a year with no domestic help, we really don’t want to employ anyone else in these politically sensitive times.

We can’t employ our previous domestic because the Western Cape has no railway system to speak of any more and she couldn’t possibly get here without paying for three taxis. But there are still plenty of people looking for work. The traffic intersection near where we live is now crowded with desperate people handing out slips of paper giving contact details and references.

However, after a year of going it alone we have decided to keep it that way. Since I only got married in my early thirties the ironing skills learned in my bachelor days are still exemplary. I am very nifty with a vacuum cleaner. I can sort out the laundry whenever needed and, at a pinch, I can even take down curtains, wash them and have them rehung by nightfall. I am a veritable domestic god.

Studies have shown that men who share domestic chores get more sex. I Googled this and found that just as many studies show that men who share domestic chores get less sex. Hardly surprising when you’ve spent the day taking down curtains, washing them and re-hanging them.

Estimates vary but between 170 000 and 250 000 domestic workers in this country are estimated to have lost their jobs due to COVID. Some may return to work but I suspect most will not.

The upside of this is that many of us will no longer need to feel guilty about maintaining the exploitive master/servant relationship which, we were told, was yet another legacy of apartheid harking back to the days of slavery. I’m not sure the unemployed domestic workers are quite so overjoyed at their newfound freedom but that’s only because they’re not very woke. All they need to remember is that the ANC knows best.

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We are often warned by our beloved leaders that the ‘full might of the law’ will be unleashed on miscreants in this country. The sort of people who don’t wear masks in public or who attempt to buy alcohol on a Friday.

So I was understandably excited when I learned last week that our Minister of Police, the ever entertaining Bheki Cele, was on his way to Nkandla to finger the collar of accused number one. You don’t get much more mighty than the top cop turning up amongst an array of flashing blue lights to set an example to the lower ranks.

I imagined the usual banter taking place through the police megaphone. “Come out with your hands up Jacob… we’ve got the place surrounded” To which the given response (according to all the TV I’ve been watching) is “It’s a fair cop guv. I’ll come quietly”.

But it didn’t happen like this. After negotiating with the formidable force of orcs known as the MKMVA which now guards Nkandla Towers it appears that the top cop was invited in for a refreshing glass of water and told to help himself to anything he fancied in the fruit bowl.

Obviously Bheki hadn’t planned to stay too long because he never bothered to remove his hat but you know how things are? Once a couple of comrades get chatting about past triumphs and swapping corruption stories the time just flies by.

The top cop seemed genuinely surprised at media reaction that he wasn’t actually there to arrest Zuma for playing truant from the Zondo commission and explained, as far as I can understand it, that he often visits people who are possibly about to be arrested for multiple offences to “listen to concerns and see if we can make a contribution to prevent a thing from happening and becoming a disaster”. Bit late for that one old son.

So, in future, when the ANC refers to the ‘full might of the law’ you must know it means they might or might not arrest somebody, depending on their political influence. Yet again South Africa shows the world how things should be done.

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As the COVID vaccines roll out over there on Airstrip One I can’t help wondering whether there aren’t some worrying side effects. Or maybe it’s a side effect of COVID itself. UK TV station Channel 5 have decided to cast black actress Jodie Turner-Smith as Ann Boleyn in a forthcoming series about Henry VIII.

As if bunking school for a year wasn’t bad enough, there will now be an entire generation of children who will watch this and be convinced that Henry’s second wife was a good-looking black model.

The pandemic of wokeness now rampaging through the world of entertainment can only end in tears. It’s one thing having a sprinkling of black aristocrats in Regency period Britain as happened in the purely fictional ‘Bridgerton’ but it’s quite absurd to portray an historical figure like Ann Boleyn as black; however brilliant an actress Ms Turner-Smith may be.

Battle lines are already being drawn. There will obviously be accusations of cultural appropriation from the Henry VIII appreciation society even though cultural appropriation is only a crime that privileged white people can commit.

Henry will no doubt be labeled ‘racist’ by the wokists for beheading a black woman on trumped up charges of treason. That statue outside St Bartholomew’s hospital is going to have to come down. Worse though, there could be revenge attacks. It’s already been suggested that Hugh Grant play Nelson Mandela in the forthcoming sequel ‘Long Walk to Freedom 2- Was It Really Worth It?’