Maids and Madams

I had a conversation over lunch the other day with some friends I have known since my early days as a student activist.  We were talking about this odd phenomenon of having “maids” (better known as domestic workers) and thus becoming “madams” (though no one actually calls us that).  And how to negotiate this role that hold so many of the unchanged dynamics left to us by apartheid.  We are all hard working women with small children who cannot do without this support.  Yet it feels uncomfortable and we have to figure out the relationship in a new way, attempting not to replicated old ways and also not overcompensating.

My friend tells the story about her mother, now a pensioner, who lives in a large house.  Her domestic worker has been with her most of her adult life and has many family members who join her in her work.  My friends mom will typically buy a roast chicken from woolies for her domestic worker and family to eat while she snacks on a sandwich for supper.  This story holds so much of the desperate attempt to right inequality while at the same time setting up other destructive dynamics.

As a farmer, we have a whole other level of intensity in our relationship with our staff: we live with them!  They are our neighbours, our support structure, they don’t go somewhere else in the evenings or the weekends.  This is their home too.  If they are going through a difficult time in their marriage or life there is no way for us not to know about it.  And visa versa.  Secrets are difficult to keep when the intimacy is so full on

I have just started my training as a Family Constellations practitioner and my reading has led me to a very important principle around giving and receiving.  “We feel entitled when we give and we feel obligated when we take… When we take, we feel indebted and beholden to the giver.  We feel this obligation as discomfort and pressure, and we try to overcome it by giving something back.” p13 ” Whoever wants only to giver without taking clings to an illusion of superiority, rejects the bounty of life and denies equality to his or her partner”.

This way of thinking illuminates a powerful complexity in the dynamic I am challenged by.




I have just completed the first half of my foundation training in Family Constellations.  I have been fascinated by the work for years and it has a lot of resonance with what I am already doing.  However, taking the time to deepen my understanding of the concepts and techniques is very enriching.

One of the concepts that comes through very strongly is that of our (sometimes unconscious) loyalty to previous generations.  This explains how we repeat actions (which could be harmful) generation after generation.

Reading up about this while watching the Universties burn makes me think about this.  1976. 1986. 2016.  Those who were involved in the Soweto riots in 1976 could very likely have children in University right now.


white people – there was a place for you at university.  sure you worked hard to get in.  sure your family sacrificed.  sure you are still paying off your student loan and your life is miserable because of it.  but you got in. you didn’t have to be exceptionally exceptional.  you didn’t have to fight the overwhelming odds.

whites trying to give back – story of carolines’ mom. us on the farm.  family.  differences.  try to make up for it by giving stuff.  giving and recieving out of balance.

what to do. make changes in your own life.  be aware of how you contributing to inequality and racism.  perpetuating systems.


comparing pain.  not helpful.  because your suffering doesn’t equal those that experienced the holocaust doesn’t mean you don’t have to deal with it.  in fact someone who experienced bullying at school may have been more damaged as a human than someone who survived the holocaust because of all the other factors.  but when white people do put their suffering in relation apartheid in order to make it seem like they can equal it then they open themselves up to that comparison and its not likely to end up with sympathy for the white person. because when you speak about your struggle as a white person profound as it might be it cannot compare to the institutionalised,systematic oppression and racism experienced by a black person even if they are living the life of riley.  no matter how rich or educated a black man is he will still be tailed around the small town shop in case he shoplifts.  he will still have to prove that he is capable of the doing the job.

Maids and Madams

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We are half way between Cape Town and Johannesberg (about 8 hours in either direction) half an hour off the N9 highway. We are an hour from Graaff-Reinet and 25 minutes from Nieu Bethesda.

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