No Child Dreams of Being a Domestic Worker When They Grow Up

I’m an optimist.

I have hope. If there’s an opportunity to look at something humorously, I’ll take it. That’s why I wrote 16 Things Black People Wish They Could Explain To Their White Friends. It’s good not to take ourselves too seriously.

But every optimist needs to cross over to the dark side now and again. Every optimist needs to stop and realise that, "Whoa! The world is really, really messed up!" Every optimist needs to turn off the Kardashians and get a dose of reality.

On a long distance bus ride from Johannesburg I eavesdropped on a conversation between two women sitting behind me. Both of them were well dressed black women. They were gossiping about some of the other passengers, talking about their families and work.

One of them was a domestic worker. She spoke fondly about the little white babies who called her Mama and her white "Mrs" who loved pap. And how the little boy who adored her interrogated her about who she was: "Are you my aunt? No, you can’t be my aunt because you’re black!"

I chuckled inwardly.

And then reality struck: this forty-something year old woman sitting behind me was a domestic worker. She probably didn’t finish high school. She never went to university or had the opportunity to choose a career. She spends most of her days with little ones who call her "Mama" but aren’t her children. Hers would be waiting for her at home after work. But first she needs to take a long taxi ride home from the leafy North to the poorer South.

She’ll shout, After robot!, hop of the taxi and walk home briskly, clutching her handbag tightly to her side because the street is dark. It’s the middle of winter and the power’s out. The children will be waiting, her oldest girl will have supper ready for the family, and her little boy will be in for a scolding because he hasn’t polished his school shoes. She’ll check their homework, finish evening chores, take a quick bath and collapse into bed. Exhausted. Tomorrow morning she’ll hug them goodbye before sunrise.

Another day’s work.

No child dreams of being a domestic worker when they grow up. Or a car guard. Or a bathroom cleaner at Rosebank Mall. Little girls dream of being doctors and pilots and social workers. Little boys want to be lawyers and musicians and engineers. But most of them will fail high school or get through by the skin of their teeth.

They’ll never pursue a diploma or degree or even technical training. The pilot will be a car guard; the engineer a cleaner; and the doctor a domestic worker. Their dreams will be extinguished by the harsh reality of a poor education system and economic inequality.

I’m still an optimist.

Because there is dignity in all work. The idea of ‘menial’ jobs is a false because all work is worthy of respect. My grandmother and that woman on the bus, the people you call your ‘maid’ or ‘Mama’- they do important work. And the fact that their careers were constrained by their circumstances doesn’t change the fact that their work matters.

I still have hope.

Because there is a man in Soshanguve who was born into poverty. So poor that he couldn’t stay in school and became a gardener instead. That same man worked his job and raised enough money to finish school, study towards a Bachelor of Arts, his Masters and finally his PhD. Read Fannie Sebola’s story and be inspired!

Crazy,right?

Not if you’re an optimist. Not if you have hope.

I love your comments, keep them coming!

Subscibe to this blog by email! Want to continue this conversation? Email Zola at realmukoko[at]gmail[dot]com

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4 thoughts on “No Child Dreams of Being a Domestic Worker When They Grow Up

  1. Awesome read, you are fast becoming…well…like the only blog I read. Ha ha. Anyways, I wanted to relate a story about progressing through domestic work. In about 2005 I think, I lived in Durban on the beachfront in some super sketchy apartments. I lived with two other people and we decided we’d like to employ someone to just clean the flat once a week, and we had a principle of generating employment even if we didn’t really need it. So we asked Jabulani the security officer if he knew of someone who wanted a one a week job. He introduced us to Thabisile Mhlongo, who was almost exactly my age, my height, my weight. Thabi became fast known as “Thabi Magic”, and when we moved to a completely crazy house away from the beachfront, she started heading to us twice a week. She was always awesome, friendly, and so hard working it was insane. She fell pregnant along the way and had a beautiful little baby names Siyamthanda. I took Thabi for a driving lesson one day as she had told me she dreamed of being an ambulance driver, which resulted in my car being ramped over a grave (long story, my fault essentially). We stood in the graveyard, both shivering wrecks, both crying and holding hands. We were like twins of disaster the two of us! Anyway, my boyfriend and I broke up shortly after the grave ramping, and I left Durban while Thabi stayed on working for my ex. It was Thabi who cried with me when I came to get my last things at the house, and I saw my boyfriend had pulled out every single bit of crockery and cutlery that had anything to do with me and put them on the table for Thabi to take if she wanted. Anyways, long story to get to the point that my ex asked Thabi to come and work at his offices twice a week to clean, which she did. After a year or so of that (and looking after his property, which she moved on to with her daughter), Thabi started doing computer literacy with the office folk and was soon employed as an administrator – for a very cool surf brand in Durban. Thabi isn’t an ambulance driver, but she is a full time working Mom – she is not a domestic worker! She didn’t dream of being a stylishly dressed administrator, but she made new dreams reality with her incredible work ethic and the genuine amazingness of her personality. And I guess her love. She loved me, and I loved her, and we get to chat on Whatsapp a bit these days. It’s just a cool story, people helping people helping people.

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  2. I Love each and every blog you write. Your work is well articulated and unique and as a black South African I can Highly relate to it. Keep up the great work Shula Mukoko. Your readers love you.

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  3. i absolutely looooooove this post, so much truth in this —> No child dreams of being a domestic worker when they grow up. The other day i saw a few tweets about “maids” which made me cringe from the way people were describing their maids and i thought to myself do these people realise these maids are humans too who if they had had the same opportunities as you wouldn’t be a maid? It’s so disappointing how people ill-treat and look down on their “domestic workers” yet like you said “Because there is dignity in all work. The idea of ‘menial’ jobs is a false because all work is worthy of respect.” Thank you for this post

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  4. Hey Shula
    I am a photographer by profession and last year i worked on a photographic concept around this idea here is an image that summaries the article in one

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