When the nanny becomes family: Touching stories that will make you see domestic work in a new light

"These relationships are so special and so priceless"
"These relationships are so special and so priceless"

The issue of domestic work in South Africa is a hotly debated one, with words like exploitation, job creation, poverty and minimum wage bandied about. 

There's no denying the validity of all voices, and even though the discussion around the domestic work industry is one that may not be positively concluded in the near future, it helps to know that even among the worst of conditions, there too lies good and the best of human nature. 

When we first shared the story of the Oscar-winning movie, Roma, in which the nanny and domestic worker took centre stage, we knew the responses would be many, but nothing prepared us for the incredibly touching stories we received. 

From lifelong friendships to blended families, here's a look at the better side of our country: 

Also see: For Ma Lina, and the many other domestic workers who raised us, while their own kids were going to bed without them

What is your take on domestic work in South Africa? Did you have a special relationship with your domestic worker or nanny? Share your story with us, and we could publish your letter. Do let us know if you'd like to stay anonymous.

"Monica was our queen"

"My domestic worker came into my life quietly and timidly, that is how she lived her life. She looked after my children to the point that I could go on holiday for a few days and know they were with their other mom.   

Then my mom moved in too, and over the years Monica and my mom became besties. The two of them would sit and chat and watch Generations every evening. My mom would fall into a mild depression when Monica went home in December.  

Soon we asked Monica to bring her daughter to live with us. It didn't seem fair that she was looking after my children and yet could not care for hers. So, Sindi made the decision to come up here a few years ago and the children saw her as their big sister. 

Sadly my mother got very ill, and Monica refused to let my mom go to a home. She helped us look after her, changing nappies even. The morning that we woke up and realised that my mom had passed, Monica was inconsolable.  

Incredibly, Monica was also ill and passed on 4 months after my mom. This hit myself and the kids more than the death of my mom. My mom was sickly and we expected it, if that makes sense? Monica was young, only 54. Healthy, vibrant! And all of a sudden she died, I took to my bed and just refused to believe this could be true.   

We didn't have the money for a funeral so I asked all my clients to pay in advance for their Christmas shoots, which they did and we managed to raise the money in a day.

It was such an honour to be able to lay my friend to rest in her home town. 

I'm crying as I write this. The pain is still so raw. I will never have that sort of relationship again.  

Monica was our queen." 

Warm regards, Colleen Sevitz

Also see: We should be giving our nannies and domestic workers more than just the minimum wage

"These relationships are so special and so priceless"

"I am a single mom of two daughters, two dogs and a huge garden. 

Many years ago, I hired a gardener. He was a young man and just out of school, he became family. Years later, my kids went off to varsity in the Eastern Cape while I lived in KwaZulu-Natal. 

Sbu was the one who called on me after huge storms to ensure I was fine, came to assist if I experienced any challenges, he was a housesitter, pet carer, grocery shopper, airport shuttle, whatever we needed. 

I resigned from work once without having another job, told him to take another job if he had offers because finances were tight. He declined and told me that I would survive and he would stick around even if I had to pay him less. This is a man that travelled an hour to work once a week. I am now retired, and Sbu works for my daughter once a week. 

This arrangement was made only because he and my grandson of 3 years adore each other. We couldn't possibly dream of separating them. My daughters call Sbu: the stand-in help, babysitter, handyman, brother, partner, companion to us all and an irreplaceable human. He has assisted with their moves over the years, renovating their homes and whatever the need was.

To my grandson, he is the one that teaches him about things, his special friend. When Marley visits me, he uses my landline phone (something they don't have) and calls Sbu to tell him what's happening at my house – imaginary of course, unless I dial. 

These relationships are so special and so priceless." 

Regards, Debbie

Also see: What is the minimum wage for domestic workers and nannies 2019?

"We were blessed to be her children and grandchildren"

"When my father (now 91 years old) started his studies at university, he was 17 and lived in a boarding house.

A young girl called Katy and her partner were working at the boarding house. They cleaned, washed dishes and helped to cook and serve meals.  

After university, my parents got married and moved abroad for 5 years. I was born by the time they re-settled in their old town.

They needed a domestic helper and were introduced to a young lady who was none other than Katy who had worked at the student boarding house.

Katy immediately became a very important part of our family. She was there for us every day. She cooked the best food, cleaned, never ever got cross with us.

She was like our second mother and we loved her as much. Ant Kate saw us through our sulky teens, our wild student days, our courtships. She was just always there. 

When my children were born, my mom and Aunt Kate took turns to help, to soothe and to give advice. How privileged we were to have an extra granny! 

My husband was transferred and we moved away, but Aunt Kate was still part of the extended family. Even when my children spent time with their grandparents, Katy was like the second granny.

Later, when they were students, they stayed with Ouma, Oupa and Aunt Kate. She cooked them special meals and spoilt them with a flower in their room, the very dear extra gran. 

When after 45 years, Aunt Kate decided it was time to leave, we were all very sad. But we also knew that she deserved her rest and that we were blessed to be her children and grandchildren. 

We still see Aunt Kate from time to time for birthdays, and alas, for funerals. She is a beautifully wrinkled old lady now, with white hair and sparkling tiny eyes. She has a bubbling gurgling laugh like a mountain stream, which is quite contagious. 

How much poorer our whole three generations' lives would have been without this wonderful, wise and strong small lady!

I honour you, Aunt Kate." 

Also see: Domestic workers are mothers too

"I will forever be grateful to her and her family"

"I saw this article on Parent24 and thought to write something about the 35 years (1982-2017) my mother spent as a domestic worker for Mrs Parsons.

Mrs Parsons is now above 83 years old, God forbid she may not have long to live. My mother passed on 31 Jan 2019, I still feel I never had time to thank her enough for all she did for me and my three brothers as a single parent. 

I, therefore, thought it will be a double blow if Mrs Parsons passes on before I thank her for all that she has done for my mother and her children (us).

Without any doubt, there were ups and downs in their relationship like any relationship between an employer and employee. 

The Parsons family, through Mrs Parsons, adopted us as part of their family. As long as I can remember, they've contributed to our lives and have had a major contribution in our careers, in what we have and who we are today. 

In 1992, they built my mother a 4-room house in the township that was being developed at the time. The house is one of the physical assets that our lovely mother left for us.

During school holidays, I personally worked for the family as a gardener/general labourer and through this time I was well taken care of. I was taught driving and received help in getting a driver's licence. 

They helped to finance some of my tertiary studies, including getting me space in a tertiary institution after the registration closing date.

My younger brother's education from Grade 1 to tertiary has been facilitated mostly by Mrs Parsons' family.

He was helped by her daughter, Deidre, to get space in the multiracial school in days when black people were selectively admitted in these schools.

His whole high school was paid for by the other daughter, Charmaine.

We call her Gogo (Grandmom) not because it's a norm, but because we really mean it.

She is our adopted grandma and I will forever be grateful to her and her family." 


Chat back:

What is your take on domestic work in South Africa? Did you have a special relationship with your domestic worker or nanny? Share your story with us, and we could publish your letter. Do let us know if you'd like to stay anonymous.

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