Footage shared to various social media platforms on Saturday has caused a fair amount of astonishment thanks to the spectacle of a group of senior citizens led by a blonde woman in a residential complex teaching the building’s black staff members how to wash their hands.
According to comedian Lesego Tlhabi, the complex in question is in Illovo, Johannesburg.
While there has also been some recognition of the fact that the woman’s intentions might have been good, the video has largely been slammed as patronising and even representative of racist attitudes towards the black working class in certain suburban enclaves.
The clip begins with a debate about the ethics of what is about to occur, with a few elderly gentlemen defending the intentions of the woman ahead of her demonstration.
She is later in the clip referred to as “Shelly”.
Shelly tells the man filming her that she will allow him to continue as long as he “stands over there”.
He stands his ground against her though.
“I will stand right here. Don’t tell me to go back,” the man says.
“This is not for you, understand. This is for the residents. I want you to go back,” Shelly demands, before giving up.
I don’t know which part of the video makes me angrier ???????? Yoooo fuck!
“In Illovo, the workers who live on the 5th floor were commanded to come be taught how to be hygienic. This was in full display of all residents of the block who were invited to watch from their balconies.” pic.twitter.com/CAZLkufyTR
— Lesego Tlhabi (@LesegoTlhabi) March 28, 2020
He can soon be heard again expressing his disgust at what he is witnessing, at one point being dismayed that “fully grown adults” are being spoken to in this way.
The group of building staff can be seen kept separate by having to stay put on their markers laid down on the lawn, in apparent observance of social distancing during the Covid-19 outbreak.
“Shelly” starts off by calling the black female staff “girls” before correcting herself and saying “gentlemen and ladies”. She then promises them a “little bit of fun” before demonstrating to them how to put soap and water on their hands. She suggests they sing “Happy Birthday” before she tells them they could try the more African song “Shosholoza” too.
“Come on, sing Shosholoza!” she enjoins, as the person filming says, “This is ridiculous. This is absolutely insane.”
Not all the staff seem enthused enough to sing along, nor do they all count slowly to 20 with her as she continues to show them how to wash their hands, while reminding them to clean under their fingernails.
One of Shelly’s defenders can be heard asking the person filming to “give her a chance” because she is supposedly always the one the staff turn to in the building whenever they have problems, and she apparently makes time to help them.
it's like she is instructing grade R kids ????????
— ~SiYa (@SiyaNDV) March 28, 2020
I can’t even watch that video of that white woman “teaching” the black workers how to wash their hands. It irritates me too much
— STAY AT HOME (@naledimashishi) March 28, 2020
And she was about to say "girls and boys" to our parents.????????????
— Kelebogile Mopeloa (@Ma_Mops) March 28, 2020
Former president Nelson Mandela’s PA Zelda le Grange earlier this month found herself the subject of criticism after a post on coronavirus awareness, calling on employers to demonstrate to their employees how to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds.
Le Grange said she had demonstrated it to her gardener and cleaner.
Her now deleted post read in part: “If you have a housekeeper, nanny, gardener or garden services, pool cleaner or anyone in your employment, demonstrate to them what a 20-second handwash looks like. Explain and show them how the virus transfers through handshake, touching, handling money, public transport, touching rails, ATMs etc. Don’t assume they know.
“I bought them Vit C tablets and a bar of soap and gave each food to take home to try and boost their family’s immune [sic].”
She has since been highly criticised for her “condescending” tone and even “racist” statements.
In response, Le Grange said she only wanted to spread awareness with her employees “purely from a place of care for their wellbeing”.
“I was told I am racist and that I questioned the intelligence of domestic workers, gardeners and the hygiene of people who have cleaned after me. That no one needs my help and that it was condescending to give them means like extra soap, vitamins etc to help them prepare for the virus. I was called every name in the book and my safety threatened.
“If I am accused of ill treating people surely I shouldn’t expose them further to this environment because those who accused me seemingly know my intentions better than I or those who know me.
“I have spent much of the last 20 years giving back in supporting people who struggle. I have done so with the purest intentions as I believe it’s only collective effort that will make this country work and every small action CAN add up in changing people’s destiny.
“I am self-employed yet I dedicate every spare minute to the welfare of those around me and their extended communities. I have made personal sacrifices over the last 30 years that I am now no longer sure had any impact. I have also lost a vast amount of work due to Covid-19 and feel an immediate impact.
“I have reached the age where if your intentions are constantly questioned you walk away as your attempts are continuously spit on [sic].
“Only a deranged person will open yourself to the amount of abuse I have endured.”
As a result, Le Grange says she plans to “terminate the casual employment” of the two people that work for her one day a week and will now do her own cleaning.
“I will carefully explain this to them as they know my intentions were pure and our relationship of such that we were involved in other things beyond my household. I clearly don’t deserve their friendship. I will apologise to them personally if they felt I harmed their dignity in any way with my briefing or demonstration. I will give them financial assistance equal to the four days a month they work for me. My heart is broken because they are my family but if my employing them degrades them I am no good for them.”
(Compiled by Charles Cilliers. Background reporting, Vhahangwele Nemakonde)