Tanaka Mahanya Lifestyle Writer
Domestic workers have become a vital component in many homes and demand for their services has become more of a basic necessity than a luxury.
Most urban households rely on maids.
Many girls from as young as 13, leave their homes in search of greener pastures in urban areas. But their treatment varies between families, depending on the income they pocket at the end of the month.
If there is no gardener, she also does a butler’s duty, answering the door bell and maintaining the garden.
A survey carried out by The Herald Lifestyle established that in low density suburbs, maids are treated with respect as compared to high density ones.
Walking in the streets of Highlands, maids are easily identified by their dressing.
Their heads are covered in wraps to avoid food contamination when cooking and look presentable at the same time.
Loose fitting uniforms, mainly in pink, blue and purple are the order of the day.
Jewellery, bright ribbons, and ornamental hair pins are never permitted when on duty.
They are addressed as ‘aunt’, so they do not feel neglected and unwanted.
“I thought working as a maid would make me feel useless, but I feel totally the opposite.
“The family I work for calls me aunt or ‘mainini’, which makes me feel like I’m part of the family,” said Chipo, a house maid in Mount Pleasant.
“I interact with them on a personal level, sometimes I take their children for movies and to school. Some employers recruit housemaids with a clean driver’s license who can take their children to school when they are busy.
And to top it up, five Ordinary Level passes including English to assist children with homework.
“I do not take a housemaid with less than five O-Levels. What will she teach my children if she failed form four?” said Audrey Chawatamba of Mount Pleasant.
Their monthly allowances are mostly paid in United States Dollars, probably because of the family’s monthly income.
“I would rather pay my house maid $US50 like I’m doing now, than hire someone who did not go to school.”
But their high density cousins are a complete different story.
On Tuesday, teen housemaids in Mufakose were roaming the streets at around 10 in the morning.
At a time when some of them are at school, they have no dream of going back there.
Employers have gone to work, so they are left with no supervision, with nothing else to do.
From the way they are addressed as ‘sisi’ or ‘mushandi’, it clearly shows they are not part of the family.
They do not have uniforms and cannot be differentiated from the rest of the family.
Their dressing mostly consists of tight skirts and leggings probably to attract the attention of ghetto youths in the neighbourhood.
Freehand is the common hairstyle.
Most of their time is spent gossiping and roaming the streets exploring the city.
Salaries are usually between $150 and $300, which sometimes the employers fail to pay in full. “At one time I had to sue my employer because she had failed to pay me, and the amount of work I do does not match my salary,” said Chipo of Kuwadzana.
When they start work, they are usually picked up at bus termini because they know nothing about City life.
Although it is customary to demand a reference letter as proof of a good working record, this is one class of workers where employees are engaged on the basis of trust.
Some housemaids who get into homes under the guise of looking for jobs, have ulterior motives beneath their seeming innocence.
And certain group of handlers known as ‘agents’ are conniving with these housemaids to steal from unsuspecting employers or host families.
Findings have shown that the ugly trend is on the rise.
On Christmas Eve, a girl sat quietly, lost in her own thoughts near Roadport Bus Termini as she waited for Mutare bound buses. Her name is Serina 22 who was on her way back home after a two-year stay in Harare where she had worked as a housemaid for various families since the age of 20.
Despite her hard work and her intention of earning her living in Harare, she was returning home penniless and without a dime.
Serina’s story is typical of many young women and men who, often with the help of an agent or middleman, come to Harare to find domestic work with upper- and middle-class families.
“I came to Harare in 2017 with the intention of working as a housemaid.
“My relative brought me here to work and I found myself in several homes where I took care of children and often times, I would change jobs and usually inform my agent who helped me out with new placements when the need arises,” she said.
Things were going well for Serina until August 2018 when she asked to leave the family that had employed her for the previous 18 months.
“I asked for my wages but they could not give me because they had discovered I took some of their valuables through the instigation of my agent,” Serina said.
Her employer had learnt that she had stolen a bag of jewellery at the instigation of the agent who placed her in the job.
“They said they won’t report me to the police and gave me bus fare to leave their home,” she said.
Stories like these are becoming common in Harare and are on the increase.