"No matter the colour of our skin, we are just plain human beings": Jackson Mthembu and our readers respond to Ma Lina's story
We recently interviewed Kyla Mills, after her beautiful post about the nanny she grew up with, Ma Lina, went viral.
Since she wrote about her family's experiences and her thoughts on minimum vs fair wages on Facebook, over 35 000 people reacted and it’s been shared by over 15 000 users. But Kyla felt the post and the story wasn’t about her, but Ma Lina.
So in our story, Kyla shared with us just how much our nannies do for us, and how much they sacrifice – sometimes even their own families – as they become an integral part of ours.
- Read the full article: For Ma Lina, and the many other domestic workers who raised us, while their own kids were going to bed without them
We were overwhelmed by all the responses we received from so many readers, including these from Jackson Mthembu:
Being a son of a domestic and a farm worker myself, I read with appreciation and pride both the article and #KylaMills face book post . It's this type of articulation by my fellow white compatriots that make me proud to be a #SouthAfrican .— Jackson Mthembu (@JacksonMthembu_) July 4, 2018
No matter the colour of our skin and our status in life, deep down in the hearts of our hearts , we are just plain human beings . Thank you #Kyla for reminding us .— Jackson Mthembu (@JacksonMthembu_) July 4, 2018
The Chief Whip of the African National Congress said, "Being a son of a domestic and a farm worker myself, I read with appreciation and pride both the article and #KylaMills Facebook post. It's this type of articulation by my fellow white compatriots that make me proud to be a #SouthAfrican."
"No matter the colour of our skin and our status in life, deep down in the hearts of our hearts, we are just plain human beings. Thank you #Kyla for reminding us."
For the most part the comments had one very specific theme: we should all be this kind to everyone we meet.
Here's a selection of the stories we received, both from families who employed a domestic worker to families of domestic workers, all sharing their experiences.
"If I ever win the Lotto, Gladys would be the first to go on a well-deserved luxury holiday!"
Lauren continued, "I'd give my last breath to save her. I always say if I ever win the Lotto she would be the first to go away on a very well-deserved luxurious holiday, amongst many things. After all, she taught me everything. From speaking a little Xhosa to feeding me to bathing me and putting me before her own children. Aw man... no money could ever buy those special memories! My precious Gladys Ndlovu."
"She is my friend, adviser and voice of reason. I will care for Sophia as she has cared for me"
Sarelle wrote in and told her story:
"I read your article on Ma Lina and my heart sang. It echoes the story of my Sophia. She joined our family in 1998. I was 10 years old. She was there for every teenage heartache, every academic achievement, she helped me pack my bags for uni and she waited every weekend when I came home. She was there when my grandma passed away, she wiped the tears and did the dishes (even though she was crying too – Ouma was her Ouma too). When I got married, she was there. When I got pregnant, she was there.
"Last year, we decided to move to Qatar. Sophia is 52 and I asked her if she wants to come along. She has since travelled with us, lived with us and been a friend, adviser and helping hand. She is my voice of reason – she has an amazing calm demeanor, I adore her wit!
"She is my 'other mother' and I will care for her as she has cared for me.
"Thanks for Ma Lina's story. It made our story all the more sweet."
"The story about domestic workers are so wide and deep and we tend to cover it up and pretend all the issues never existed"
Another reader wrote in anonymously: "I read your article about Ma Lina on News24 and was moved by it. I am so happy that there are people out there that still have a heart for their domestic workers and treat them as part of the family. That is how we should all treat our workers, domestic workers and staff.
"I don't have a domestic worker, can't afford it, but once I did. I had a lady, Marlise, who used to live on the streets. One day, a few years ago, someone told me she has this lady working for her and she lives on the streets so she only pays her R10 and, thus, she has two cleaning ladies. I was so shocked that she paid her so little. It doesn't mean because she lives on the street and does 'odd' jobs that she should be treated and paid so badly.
"I immediately took her into my house, made her sleep in my daughter's room and paid her properly. She was a vegetarian and I bought her special food since we were all meat eaters. I bought her clothes, soap, etc.
"When she was on Christmas break on her way home in Tsolo, she had an accident and broke her leg. When she came out of hospital, she didn't go home but took the long taxi ride back to Kokstad, broken leg and in pain, just to come tell me she'd broken her leg! I was so shocked.
"For me she was the best person I've known, as a worker and a friend. When we relocated I asked her to move with me but she said the streets were all she knew. I had so many conversations with her, telling her that she must not let people treat her badly because she is a person with feelings, just like we are, and she deserves so much more. Every time I go to Kokstad I have to look for her and hug her. She's part of my family.
"Why do we have to treat our workers like slaves and pay them a minimum wage? We can't survive on what we're earning but we expect them to survive with even less?
"The story about domestic workers are so wide and deep and we tend to cover it up and pretend all the issues never existed. People think we have to treat our domestic workers less because they are "ONLY" domestic workers, but they are so much more. We don't even give them a 'thank you' for what they do, whether it's one, two, five, 10, or 30 years of service.
"I am so glad you decided to write the article about them and bring it to light even if it's for a short time. It will resonate with me for a long time. I even spoke to one of my colleagues this morning about Ma Lina's story and discussed how beautiful it is and how we need more people like that in our lives. It would make SA a much better place to live in – the spirit of UBUNTU instead of focusing on all the negatives around us."
"I felt so humble seeing white men cry at my mom's death bed"
Wayne D Kearn shared his story, saying that although his mother was away from home, the family she worked for truly cared for her.
"What a great story...
"My Mom worked for a 'white' family for more than 40 years and was treated like a mother by the boys of the family she worked for. She and the lady of the house became personal friends over the years and when my mom retired, they still had constant contact and when the lady passed away, my mom cried like she'd lost a sister.
"When my mom became sick and the doctor told us she wouldn't survive the day, I called the family and they all came through, but unfortunately my mom passed on before they got to the house. I felt so humble seeing 'white' men cry at my mom's death bed as if she was their mom and stayed for long afterwards 'cause the father didn’t wanted to leave. All attended the funeral and tea afterwards, mixing with the “coloured” people as they were seen as part of Christene family.
"This family will always keep me grounded and from thinking that I am better than others. Paul (the one son) spoke with soft words of my mom as his second mom."
"Ou Piet contributed to 95% of how I was raised"
Mthimunye Samson speaks of his experiences with the family that employed his mom. "Ou Piet took care of me since l was 5 and l never knew the word 'racism' until l was sent to school. To this day Ou Piet contributed 95% of how l was raised and taken care of. My mother was working for his family, they paid well, raised six kids, built a house and it was not a 'must' for that family to take such 'extra care' to show 'humanity'. I learnt humanity and love from that family..."
"What did you do in my mommy's toilet, hey?" How those words still hurt 50 years later
Although there are many employers and families out there who treat their domestic workers and nannies as part of the family, others struggle, and it can leave lasting scars. Jackie Motlhabi wrote in with a memory of her mother's employers that still hurts her to this very day:
"'What did you do in my mommy's toilet, hey? Tell me, I won't tell mommy.' These are the words of a 4-year-old little girl who my mother took care of when I was 14. It was one of those occasions when I would visit my mother where she was a domestic worker. I had gone into the house out of curiosity, and envy, to see how 'the other half lives'.
"Although we were poor, we were lucky in that we lived in a mine village, called a 'skoon plaas', because my father worked for a mining company. Life at the skoon plaas exposed me to things that many black kids of the time were not exposed to, like running water and electricity. This was in 1971.
"However, the stark difference between my life and how the other half lived did not escape me, which is why I was curious to see the inside of the missus's house. I walked around, opening the cupboards and the fridge to see how different they were from ours, what they had that we didn't have. I also walked from room to room, and noticed that the little girl had her own bedroom, while I, a 14-year-old girl, shared mine with my eight siblings.
"While admiring the house, I happened to need the bathroom and it didn't make sense for me to walk to the maid's quarters when there was a bathroom in the house. This is when these words were uttered, the words I thought I had forgotten or had buried way deep in my subconscious, that they couldn't hurt me again, until I read Kyla's piece. I'm now 61 years old and I realised that these words still hurt.
"Kyla's story made me cry.
"I know there are many Kylas out there, and I wish there could be more."
Do you have a similar story you'd like to share with us? Tell us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and we may publish it on the site.
- "It's a two-way road": a reader responds to the way we treat our nannies
- OPINION: "Domestic workers will soon become a handful of people only the elite can afford"
- Why you can't just fire your domestic worker
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