Deference and disdain : domestic service in post-apartheid South Africa
The purpose of the research was to discover if the dismantling of apartheid had ameliorated the poor pay and conditions of domestic servants in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. I situated these workers in the wider societal context in order to examine their 'quality of life' in addition to their 'quality of work'. Universal features of domestic service have been the depersonalising of the worker and the denial of their adulthood to that of a child. Enriching the data with consideration of some of the life details of the domestic servants interviewed challenges these lingering social practices. I favoured an interpretive methodology in order to give my interviewees the opportunity to 'speak for themselves' and facilitate the exploration of the hidden meanings within the domestic service relationship. Having argued through the thesis that domestic servants are often social constructed, caricatured and 'trapped' into being the 'other', their words are a reaffirmation of their adult status. Hegel's Lordship/bondage paradigm was the starting point of the theoretical analysis, from which I developed my own 'chains of otherness' conception. I sacrificed representativeness in my sample in order to focus on contextualising my theoretical arguments in nine diverse case studies. The outcome was that my research question narrowed to considering improvements in the lives of my nine domestic workers interviewed. However, I have also incorporated quantitative data within the thesis to add depth to my investigation. Grahamstown was the deliberate choice for the research site, as this was also the site of Cock's (1989/79) much-cited Maids and Madams. To return to an original area of investigation was imperative, as within the remit of the research question being asked was a comparison of domestic service during and after apartheid. The distortions of regionalism were minimalised and validated my use of Cock's results as a starting point for my own findings. Mandela's book title Long Walk to Freedom is an apt description of what I discovered. Improvements are beginning to be made but there is still much more to be achieved. Domestic service's inclusion in the ambit of labour legislation and improved conditions of work are positive shifts, but wages are still extremely low and social practices still have racial orientations. In addition to the application of my theoretical arguments, I moved beyond answering the original research question to consider the effects of poverty in the lives of domestic workers and formulated strategies of empowerment. As the thesis has favoured a qualitative approach I not only considered the material factors that are necessary to empower, but also the interrelations between one another that can recognise and promote human dignity.