The Razor Wire's Edge

Apartheid's Murderous Legacy in the New South Africa

"Jobs, peace, and freedom," was the ANC slogan during the historic 1994 elections. According to a study by the New York­based nonprofit, Shared Interest, jobs in government and registered business in the private sector declined by 500,000 during the first five years of the new South Africa. And seven white-held corporate groups continued to account for over two-thirds of all the money invested on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. A modestly estimated 2.6 million South Africans, says Shared Interest, are now self-employed in an improvised "informal sector." But of course there is another sector that you might call subinformal. And that accounts for many millions more.

The Maid's Room, from David Goldblatt's South Africa, the Structure of Things Then
David Goldblatt, South Africa The Structure Of Things Then, Monacelli Press,1998.
The Maid's Room, from David Goldblatt's South Africa, the Structure of Things Then

Among those numbers you would include Sunshine Mahumane, a housekeeper for the woman whose husband bled to death on the family's Persian rug. A cornerstone of the ANC's 1999 platform was minimum wages for domestic workers, who earn an average of 500 to 700 rands a month. Now the ANC wants to raise this figure to 1500, which will effectively "lead to just a huge surge in putting people out of work," according to Geoff March, a businessman based in the Northern Province town of White River. To hear March tell it, domestics still have the best employment deal available in sub-Saharan Africa; after all, he explains, his own maid, while paid a wage well below ANC proposals, still "gets her own room and bath, a 10-kilo bag of meal every month, two-and-a-half kilos of red meat, a box of chicken parts, a box of tea, loo paper, a box of laundry soap," and permission to use the family laundry facilities to do her own wash. "She's really more of a friend, or part of the family, you might even call it," says March of a 63-year-old woman with meager savings and no retirement plan. Sunshine Mahumane, too, was "like family" to Karen and Martin Pretorius. After the murder, however, Karen sold the house and filed papers for emigration to Australia. She informed Sunshine Mahumane that she'll have to find a new job, a new family, a new home.

« Previous Page