Domestic workers continue to be the unsung heroes of this nation
Reduction of the domestic workforce will further impoverish already poor communities.
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At funerals, we “pay our respects”. What does that mean?
We had a chance to re-examine the overworked phrase when a retired, long-serving domestic worker died in rural KwaZulu-Natal last week.
Gogo had been in our household for decades. At short notice, the funeral was arranged for Sunday.
Explaining why we should make the trip of more than 1,000km there and back in one day, I invoked the theme of respect for someone who had been so much part of our lives.
The funeral was an appropriate time for us to demonstrate our respect for the family. It would be disrespectful not to attend.
Duly motivated, we made plans and set off from Johannesburg early on Sunday.
For most of the morning, we thought that the heavy-duty truck drivers, who insisted on passing other gargantuan vehicles at awkward times, were our greatest obstacles.
They were rivalled by too many stretches where construction activities reduce the N3 – the main economic lifeline between Johannesburg and Durban – to a single lane.
Yet these obstacles seemed insignificant compared with what we encountered a mere 20km from the funeral.
Through smoke and flames from burning tyres, it became clear the road was completely blocked with rocks and stones.
No vehicles were being allowed through.
Protesters smashed bottles, scattering glass across the width of the road as a further deterrent to anyone seeking to brave the barricade.
Retreating to a safe distance, we checked our devices in search of alternative routes. But there was none within reason.
After being so focused on getting there, it took a while for us to accept that there was no way through.
We had to go home without doing what we had set out to do.
I had wanted to show and tell Gogo’s people that she was well respected and affectionately remembered by those with whom she had stayed in Egoli.
Violent demonstrators put paid to our plans to join a service which was already under way.
Whatever the motivation for the blockade, it was overshadowed by more violent incidents elsewhere in the country on the same weekend.
Blocking minor rural roads is no big deal in 21st-century South Africa. It’s a daily occurrence.
Driving home, we each made an impromptu speech: what we would have liked to have said at Gogo’s funeral if called upon to do so.
Domestic workers continue to be the unsung heroes of this nation; seldom acknowledged for their contributions to the survival of households and the wider community.
READ MORE: Domestic workers could be paid more
Often at great cost to their own families. Officially there are about 892,000 domestic workers in SA.
Hundreds of thousands either lost their jobs or were prevented from working during level 5 lockdown.
Numbers returning to work have been trimmed by tough economic conditions, where employers struggle to balance household budgets.
Reduction of the domestic workforce will further impoverish already poor communities. It will also leave us poorer as human beings.
We don’t need to wait for funerals in order to pay respects. Best to show respect at all times.
Thankfully we did. You never know, you might not be able to reach the funeral.
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