This is an excerpt from Maid in SA- a novel by one of Africa’s greatest female voices in the lit scene; Zukiswa Wanner. Don’t just read this. Read this and go buy the book, then when you are done with it, go find her four other titles. Then you can thank me later.
With some exceptions, the middle-class African madam is a single parent/divorcee.
Which is great for you as you will have to be an epic fail before she fires you; after all, she needs consistency in her child’s life (at least you are not like that stupid bastard who always claims he will come and see the child and never turns up). You know how much she needs you because once you overheard her on the phone after your leave saying:
“Eish choms, I have finally established that uRefilwe is an alien or a super Mary Poppins. I don’t know how she manages to cope with such an energetic toddler and still find time to keep the house clean, laundry washed and ironed, dinner cooked. When she returned, I was so exhausted and it had only been one week. Eh. Eh. Neo is so exhausting, I decided I was going to take an extra day off work and just sleep. Ja neh? I don’t know how housewives who don’t have helpers do it day in and day out. Or those women with four children? Ja sies.”
So you know for sure; this woman needs you. When you are on your day off, she will call you to ask where the spoons in her kitchen or the coffee mugs are. Because you are both African, if you are her age or younger she may call you by your name but she will insist that her child calls you aunt. If you are older, she will also call you aunt. The middle-class African madam prefers someone her age or older, ideally with children. This ensures that you both have something from each other. You have a regular income to send to your child(ren) and she has someone reliable that she can trust with her child(ren).
She is a pretty fair employer and will pay you a good salary to ensure she keeps you. Unlike her white married counterpart however, she will not say ‘Your children can come through anytime.” That is because she is probably staying in a townhouse complex in Midrand, Fourways, Melville or Orange Grove and there is not enough room for you, her children, and your children. Additionally, she is not such a big fan of children even though she has her own. When she is home, she wants to relax. Sometimes, she will call you to tell you she is coming home late because she is meeting her friends for dinner. You will know when she rings the doorbell and she walks in, that she did not mean only dinner as she returns, possibly with one of her female friends talking too loudly and smelling like major investors of SAB Miller.
But if madams can be said to be cool, she is cool. The middle-class African madam is your boss but is the closest to a boss who is a friend that you will ever have. When you first arrived and she asked you to make dinner, “there is meat in the deep freezer” and you made rice served with nicely fried bacon with tomato and onion gravy, she did not yell at you. In fact she said, “We cannot throw it away.
Besides, it smells good,” and she dug in with the children, only telling you after the children had gone to bed, that bacon is meat made for breakfast.
When drunk, she has revealed things to you that she should not have and you have told her not to cry. You also know which of her friends claims to be a mzalwane yet has had multiple abortions; which one got fired at her work for swindling; and which one always talks highly of her husband, yet he beats her. You know who among her friends she does not really like but keeps because they have been friends since they were children. Because of this lack of boundaries, the black madam does not raise her eyebrows when you tell her that you may need to leave the house at six pm because one of the men in the townhouse complex invited you over for a drink.
She just smiles and asks what unit he stays in so that she can verify that he is single and you will not be chased with a broom by his wife. When she verifies, she will let you go. And she will laugh with you when you return twenty minutes later in a rush because when you rang the doorbell of this good-looking man you met at the gate who was driving a BMW, you could not see who opened the door.
When you finally looked down and found out that he was a dwarf, you ran back to the house in shock and panic. “Hawu ‘Filwe, you didn’t know? I thought you liked them short when you told me that was where you were going.” To which you will both laugh. Sometimes if the child is away on holiday visiting her gogo for the weekend, she will even delete all boundaries and buy you some Hunter’s Dry. Imagine.