Madam, maid and economics

2010-03-27 09:46

BACK in the day, domestic workers were only associated with

rich white madams who didn’t want to break their manicured nails doing house


These days, Oussie has become a must-have accessory that no millennium

woman can do without, no matter how small the townhouse.

My associate, Hope, and her husband Vusi had their first child a

few years ago and realised they had to have the services of an Oussie.


all, Hope’s social calendar was getting hectic – with all those wine festivals,

horse races, expos and launches she had to attend she needed house help.

In came Malerato who hailed from Lesotho. To say this Oussie was a

barrie (not streetwise) would be an understatement.

She didn’t know six from

nine, let alone voile from organza. However, by the time baby number two was

born, Oussie could stutter a few words in English and change the TV channels.

Her favourite programme was the Bold and the Beautiful. But as technology

changed, so did Oussie’s choice of programming. She now mostly watches DStv

channels, with two or three shows on free-to-air TV.

Oussie has three children of her own who are a bit younger than

Hope’s two girls. So whenever she left for Lesotho, her bosses would pay her a

bit extra.

This was the routine up until the middle of last year when Oussie had

to go home with only her monthly salary in hand.

No explanation was given. But

the truth was, Vusi, had been laid off from work due to the tough economic


So with only one salary keeping them afloat, the family had to change

their way of life, ­especially their spending habits.

First to go was the

gardener, followed by personal treats like going to the spa and golf club. With

talk of a salary ­increase being taboo for Hope’s employer these days, further

adjustments had to be made, and next in line was the DStv subscription.

Hope didn’t know how to break the news to Oussie who had become so

attached to Channel 114 that she had even learnt the Nigerian English ­dialect

from the tons of Nollywood movies on the channel.

So one evening ­after supper Hope called Oussie to the lounge to

explain the situation to her.

A shocked Oussie screamed: “Chinneke mee! (Oh my

God in Igbo) You’ve killed me,” while pulling her scarf off her head.


couldn’t understand why she had to go back to watching the Bold and the

Beautiful when talk around emakhishini (suburbs) these days was about the likes

of ­Patience Ozwokor, Rita ­Dominic and Mr Ibu – not ­Botox Taylor, Eric, Ridge

and Stefani – Ahh, ahh! This was not possible.

But this wouldn’t have been such a shock for Oussie had her bosses

explained a bit earlier what was going on.

While the couple expected their

bosses to be as transparent as possible during these trying times, they were not

walking the talk at home. They didn’t think that the financial crisis would

affect the house help – but guess what – it did.

We are living in different times which call for a more open

relationship between madams and their maids.

Better communication could have prevented Malerato from gossiping

in the suburb about the tlala (poverty) that was currently being experienced at

her place of work.

Things are looking up and Hope and Vusi have decided to restore the

DStv subscription, but only if Oussie makes an ­effort to read at least one

newspaper, including the business section, a day, and watch a business news

bulletin every evening.

That would pave the way for the next big talk – Oussie’s

salary increase. I mean lack thereof.

)? Mbuyisa is a subeditor at City Press


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