Hungry: A Migrant Domestic Worker in Cape Town, South Africa

Bronwen Dachs Muller

Citation: Dachs Muller, Bronwen. 2020. Hungry: A Migrant Domestic Worker in Cape Town, South Africa. WIEGO Workers' Lives No. 10. WIEGO.

Hunger during South Africa’s early COVID-19 lockdown was widespread among domestic workers. A domestic worker from Zimbabwe, who lives in Cape Town, found that among the most painful parts of the lockdown for her and other immigrant domestic workers was being hungry while watching their employers scurrying to help the poor with food donations.

“I saw eggs in one of the bags and I thought, ‘what about me, I can’t eat an egg, it’s a luxury’,” said Selina (not her real name), a single mother who supports her children in Harare. “We can’t spend money on food for ourselves.”

Long, unspecified hours of work and low pay are common issues that domestic workers face, even though these labour conditions are illegal in South Africa, which has covered domestic workers under its labour legislation for two decades.

The pandemic has brought unprecedented struggles for domestic workers, said Myrtle Witbooi, who started her working life as a domestic worker 50 years ago in Cape Town and is the president of the International Domestic Workers Federation. “We must put our heads together as women and think about how we are going to train people to start generating an income in this changed world,” she said.

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